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UI ethics system little used

BY MEGAN DIAL | FEBRUARY 25, 2009 7:39 AM

A UI system that allows students, staff, and faculty to anonymously report policy violations remains relatively unknown to portions of the university population it’s meant to serve.

The UI adopted the system, called EthicsPoint, four years ago to provide an avenue for individuals to report ethics and policy violations without being identified, said Todd Stewart, the director of internal audit for the state Board of Regents.

In the years since the program was initiated, Stewart said the UI has only had 15 to 20 reports of policy violations.

“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t get a lot of activity,” he said. But getting the word out about the program is still a priority — to staff and faculty, at least.

Though the UI’s EthicsPoint homepage states the service is intended for students, as well as faculty and staff, Stewart said he was not positive the system is available to students.

Other Iowa universities, including Iowa State University, also employ the program.
ISU launched EthicsPoint two months before the UI, in August 2005. Since its installation, the program has been utilized considerably more than the UI’s system, with 40 incidents reported.

ISU’s system averages about one report per month, ISU policy administrator Sheryl Rippke said.
Besides the increased popularity of ISU’s watchdog system, the utilization of its EthicsPoint program differs from the UI’s in that it is actually used more by students.

“We are always trying to encourage people to use it,” Rippke said, noting that ISU officials aim to increase the program’s popularity.

ISU advertises the service every semester in its student publication, she said.

At the UI, many students have never heard of the system.

UI junior Katherine Stanislawski said she wishes the UI would advertise the program to students.
“If I knew about it, and knew how to get to it, and thought [the violation] was important enough, [I would use it],” she said.

Stewart said faculty and staff were made aware of the program through discussions about it at various meetings with campus administrators.

“It’s hard to say [if it’s underutilized], but we’ve gone and done a few things over the last couple years to try and market it more,” he said.

The UI can easily communicate with the individual reporting the violation without learning the informant’s identity, Stewart said, and the program is useful for people who are worried about reporting an incident through their department.

Though the EthicsPoint system offers a haven for UI whistleblowers, maintaining the program isn’t cheap.

The university must make an annual payment to keep EthicsPoint, UI spokesman Steve Parrott said. During fiscal 2008, the program cost the UI $7,538, and this amount generally increases a few percent each year, Stewart said.

Every year, ISU pays $1 for each full-time employment faculty member to maintain EthicsPoint, Rippke said. ISU employs approximately 7,700 staff and faculty members, she said.

EthicsPoint is a global program, which provides hotline and case management solutions internationally for more than 2,000 clients, according to its website.

“It’s much more guaranteed anonymous because [a report] goes through a third-party vendor,” Stewart said. “They put it into a website and we get an e-mail notice that says there has been a new report.”

People can report violations in two ways using EthicsPoint: The web or a toll-free phone number.
Stewart said the UI follows up on every message, although nothing big has been reported yet.

Most violations involve people misusing university resources, driving university vehicles without permission, or incorrectly reporting work hours.

“It only takes one big finding that would pay for it,” Stewart said.

But he noted EthicsPoint is not really intended for serious cases, such as the sexual-harassment allegations against UI faculty members Arthur Miller and Mark Weiger.

“The kind of stuff we’re seeing on the hotline is not of that nature,” Stewart said.


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