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Ethical Review of Student Research

Statement of Policy

The Associated Colleges of the Midwest adheres to the federal regulations and policy guidelines concerning the ethical conduct of research involving human subject participants and applies them to all student research projects involving surveys, interviews, observations, tests, or other methods of data collection or analysis undertaken on an ACM off-campus study program. Specifically, ACM uses the Belmont Report as the set of principles that guides consortial policy on the protection of human subjects.

In brief, these principles are:

Respect for Persons

Recognition of the personal dignity and autonomy of individuals, and special protection of those persons with diminished autonomy. This principle requires informed consent from subjects, that is, they are given sufficient information, which they fully understand, about the project so they are able to decide whether or not to participate, and their participation is voluntary.


 An obligation to protect persons from harm by maximizing anticipated benefits and minimizing possible risks of harm. Investigators must anticipate all potential harms to study participants (including hidden harms, or harms that might be more likely for some types of participants than for others) and take steps to eliminate or at least minimize them. Investigators also need to consider the costs of participation (including the time they are asking participants to commit). Finally, investigators must maximize the potential benefits of a study, both to the participants and to the broader society.


Fair distribution among individuals and groups of the costs and benefits of participation in an investigation. People should not be asked to participate in a project just because they are readily available to the investigator, or because they might find it difficult to say no. People also should not be unfairly excluded from participation.


The protocol is designed to educate all students enrolled in off-campus programs that require independent study projects on the principles of ethical research and to apply the principles consistently across off-campus program sites through the review and approval process. Two groups of reviewers read student research proposals and supporting materials to assure their adherence to ethical standards. The first review is completed at the off-campus program site by the program director and/or faculty research advisor. The second review is completed by the ACM Ethics Review Panel, consisting of two representatives of member college Institutional Review Boards or Offices of Research.

The protocol for training faculty advisors and students and the review process is as follows:


  • ACM consortial office and Program Director or Visiting Faculty send students memo on “Ethical Research Standards and Approval Process for Research Projects” before they depart for the off-campus program site.
  • Faculty advisors at the program site complete NIH on-line tutorial, “Protecting Human Research Participants” and are trained in the protocol.
  • Students complete NIH on-line tutorial either pre-departure or on-site and submit certificate of completion to Program site staff.

On-Site Review

  • Students complete ‘Student Plan for Protecting Research Subjects’ that describes their research project, with attachments, for approval by the program site reviewers.
  • Program site reviewers read student project proposals and make a decision regarding its status as: 1) exempt from review by the ACM Ethics Review Panel according to the definition of ‘research,’ or; 2) ‘human subject research’ that requires review by the Ethics Review Panel.
  • Program site reviewers submit student project proposals and their decisions regarding each project’s status to the ACM Ethics Review Panel for review. This step can be taken either with the students’ outline or first draft.

Final Review and Approval

  • Projects that the on-site reviewers and ACM Ethics Review Panel determine are human subjects research as federally defined must adhere to the Belmont Principles in order to be approved. Projects that the on-site reviewers and ACM Ethics Review Panel determine are ‘not research’ according to federal regulations are approved.
  • Project proposals involving human subjects that require revision by the ACM Ethics Review Panel are re-submitted for review and approval before students begin their research.
  • Project proposals involving human subjects and presenting the possibility of more than minimal risk to the subjects are referred to the IRB of the student’s home college for its review, unless the home college IRB has delegated is authority to the ACM Ethics Panel.
  • An ACM certificate of approval is issued to each student whose proposal for research involving human subject participants is approved by the ACM Ethics Review Panel.

Materials on Ethical Research Practice

  • Determining Whether IRB Review is Federally-Mandated
  • Student Plan for Protecting Research Participants
  • Information for Participants• Template for Informed Consent Form
  • NIH on-line tutorial, “Protecting Human Research Participants”
  • Title 45 Part 46, Code of Federal Regulations (Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, the ‘Common Rule’)

ACM Off-Campus Study Programs with Independent Student Projects


The ACM policy and protocol for the review and approval of student research projects that are undertaken on ACM off-campus study programs were drafted by ACM consortial staff in Fall 2011 and discussed and further developed at the Symposium on Protecting Human Subjects in Student Inquiry Projects in Northfield, Minnesota, February 23-25, 2012. This symposium was attended by faculty and staff representing Institutional Review Boards and Offices of Research at ACM member colleges and ACM consortial staff members. The proposed policy and protocol were approved by the ACM Advisory Board of Deans in March 2012.

Rev. 20 July 2015