Signature Authority on Grants and Contracts

Policy number17-01.1
Responsible officeOffice of Research and Innovation
Enforcement officialVice President for Research and Innovation
ClassificationBoard of Trustees-delegated Policy
Category17. Research and Intellectual Property

Statement of policy

This Policy sets forth the Office of Research and Innovation’s (ORI) authority to execute grants and contracts related to sponsored programs on behalf of The Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University (WMU).  Compliance with this Policy protects WMU and its employees who perform research and services inherent in sponsored programs from legal liability, and meets the university’s, state, federal, private, and other legislative regulations and requirements.      

Summary of contents/major changes

Placed policy into template. Signature authority dollar amount increase.  Current procedures articulated.

1. Purpose of Policy

This policy sets out ORI’s authority to execute grants and contracts related to sponsored programs on behalf of The Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University (WMU).  It identifies from where ORI received that authority and sets out the Vice President of ORI’s delegations of that authority.

2. Stakeholders Most Impacted by the Policy

Any Principal Investigator (PI), Program Director (PD), faculty or staff member who contemplates signing a research proposal or award on behalf of Western Michigan University.

3. Key Definitions

Signature Authority:  Authority granted by the Board of Trustees to bind the University in grants or contracts related to research.  Signature Authority is not the same as budget authority.

Sponsored Program:  An externally funded research or scholarly activity that has a defined scope of work and/or set of objectives, which provides a basis for sponsor expectations.

4. Full Policy Details

4.1 For a research grant or research contract to have validity and enforceability, it must be signed by a person with specific authority delegated by the Board of Trustees to sign on behalf of the University (see Signature Authority below). Therefore, if a Sponsored Program award is NOT signed by an authorized University official, the research contract, grant, agreement, proposal or application may be void, voidable, and/or unenforceable.

4.2 Most grants and all research-related contracts and subcontracts issued to the University require signatures from both the sponsor and the University. In some cases, the University signature will have been provided when the proposal was submitted. The proposal then becomes a part of the grant document either directly or by reference.

4.3 Under the bylaws of the Board of Trustees, only the treasurer and assistant treasurer to the Board are authorized to execute legal and financial documents on behalf of the University.  Pursuant to that delegation, the treasurer has further delegated the authority to sign sponsored research grants and contracts to the Vice President of ORI.

4.4  Signature Authority Regarding Grant Proposals and Contracts Resulting from Grant Proposals:

  • 4.4.1 Grant Proposals – The Vice President for Research and Innovation, Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation, and their delegated Research Officers, are authorized to sign grant proposals.
  • 4.4.2 Contracts up to $500,000 – The Vice President for Research and Innovation is authorized to sign contracts that result from grant proposals up to and equal to $500,000. In the absence of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, these contracts may be signed by the Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation.
  • 4.4.3 Contracts over $500,000 – The Associate Vice President for Business and Financecan sign contracts over $500,000 that result from grant proposals. In their absence, these contracts may be signed by the Vice President for Business and Finance.
  • 4.4.4 A Principal Investigator, Project Director, Department Head, or other faculty or staff employees of WMU are not authorized to and should never sign a sponsored program proposal, research contract or grant on behalf of WMU. This policy does not preclude PIs, PDs, Department Heads, and other individuals from signing internal processing documents, the proposal, or the award if called for by the funding agency.
  • 4.4.5 All proposal or award documents must contain a University-authorized signature.

5. Accountability

Any PI, PD, faculty or staff member who signs a research proposal or award on behalf of Western Michigan University without authority to do so may assume extensive personal legal liability. PIs, PDs, Department Heads, faculty and staff should remember the following potential consequences of signing without authority:

5.1 Because the individual does not have the signatory authority to bind WMU, the university may not be bound by that agreement and/or obligated to provide lab or office space, personnel, accounting, purchasing, or any other support needed to carry out the work described in the sponsored program.

5.2 If a WMU employee uses University facilities and/or personnel to conduct research or other sponsored activities without proper approval and authority, the employee may be subject to discipline including misappropriation of governmental property and/or resources.

5.3 Without an authorized signature, the individual who signed the agreement may be personally liable for performance of the agreement and responsible for adherence to all laws, rules and regulations relating to the agreement, including, but not limited to, the Internal Revenue Code and state tax laws. Personal responsibility may include withholding and/or reporting requirements on amounts expended as well as liability for income and self-employment taxes on funding received.

5.4 Any University employee who signs a proposal or agreement without authority to do so may be subject to claims by the sponsor of the project or the University for fraud or misrepresentation if the employee led the sponsor to believe that he/she did indeed have the authority to sign on behalf of WMU.

Additional consequences for non-compliance include possible individual discipline for failure to follow applicable University policies and requirements.

6. Related Procedures and Guidelines

Developing and submitting research proposals.  (

Board of Trustees Bylaws 

7. Additional Information

The University and its employees are subject to requirements, which govern intellectual property rights generated from a sponsored program (including those specified in the AAUP contract and in the Intellectual Property Policy). If the employee seeks to invent something independently, it is crucial to proceed in accordance with this policy. Signing an agreement without authority does not insulate the employee's intellectual property rights from these policies, which presume that WMU retains rights concerning any invention created in a University-related activity, University resources such as time, facilities, equipment or materials belongs to WMU. 

8. FAQs

Questions or issues regarding the interpretation of this policy shall be directed to the ORI.


Effective date of current versionFebruary 1, 2020
Date first adopted
Revision history
Monday, August 23, 2010 - 23:41 Verified by the Office of the Vice President for Research.
Proposed date of next reviewFebruary 1, 2023


Certified by

Steve Weber 

Research Contracts Administrator 

Office of Research and Innovation 

At the direction of

Terri Goss Kinzy, Ph.D.

Vice President 

Office of Research and Innovation