Human Subjects IRB - Sociology Department Policies
Federal Guidelines for research on or with human subjects require that research proposals be examined by the Institutional Review Board (also known as the Human Subjects Review Committee) before the collection or analysis of data. A professor teaching a course that requires some form of research activity involving human subjects in her/his course is expected to get approval from the IRB. But if the project is to be repeated for a particular course whenever it is taught, the IRB could grant approval for such a project and not require that it be submitted each and every semester that the course is taught, provided the project meets the requirements of the IRB for exemptions. In this department, course work allowing such exemption usually entails the construction and distribution of surveys to a sampled population. The courses in the department that frequently contain such assignments are Introductory Sociology (Soc 101), and Research Design (Soc 399).
The comments below set out the reasoning as to why these courses may be exempted according to the statement of principles by the Institutional Review Board.
The research done as part of course-work confirms to the Statement of Principles found in the Policy Statement made by the IRB. The faculty and students participating in the research are informed of the rights of human subjects and the responsibilities of investigators, even when they are students working on a class project that does not result in public presentation of results in a professional forum.
The research done as part of course work for these courses also conforms to the research category labeled "Exempted Research" (See Section 2.5, HSIRB Policy
- Rev. 8/23/95).
In particular, surveys, interviews or fieldwork observations done in the course of collecting data for these class assignments ensure the anonymity of respondents. No permanent record of respondents is retained after the data is recorded. Data is recorded in a manner that prevents identification of subjects.
Surveys do not obtain information that "could reasonably place the subject at risk of civil or criminal liability or be damaging to the subject's financial standing or employability" (See Section 2.5.3b, HSIRB Policy
- Rev. 8/23/95). They will not deal with sensitive topics such as sexual behavior, drug-taking, or similar illegal activity.
If the project for a particular semester does not follow the above guidelines given by the IRB, then permission will be sought and received from the IRB before the implementation of data collection or analysis, e.g., the project for the particular semester requires work with vulnerable subject populations such as under-age children, economically or educationally disadvantaged subjects.
Many other courses in the department require an individualized research study using fieldwork, formal interviews, or questionnaire distribution. The term "individualized" means that the project is created and carried out by an individual student who would be supervised by a teacher. Obviously, these projects, unlike the ones where an entire class or sub-groups in the class might participate in a study, have to be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Institutional Review Board.