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Tom Schumacher

Office of Institutional Compliance director Tom Schumacher

The core of who we are

Q&A about the revised code of conduct for faculty and staff

By Gayla Marty

Brief, March 7, 2007

The University has two codes of conduct, one for students and one that governs those who do work--paid or unpaid--on behalf of the U. Both codes were updated by the Board of Regents in December.

Tom Schumacher is the director of the Office of Institutional Compliance, established in 2002 to continue the University's commitment to adhering to the highest standards of ethics, integrity, and responsibility. That office played a big part in the process of updating the code of conduct for faculty, staff, and volunteers. Schumacher talked recently about the revised code.

Brief: How do you describe the code of conduct in the simplest terms?

Schumacher: We've tried to generalize in a very accessible, plain-language way the core principles that relate to ethical conduct within University policy, and to explain those in a more readable way. This was not creating new policy. There are four parts, and the third part is the core. Part three has ten sections.

What difference does this policy really make?

SEE THE CODE OF CONDUCT

The revised code of conduct, approved by the regents Dec. 8, runs only about 1,300 words--shorter than most issues of Brief. You can find the code with links to related policies or in its official policy format (PDF).

This is perhaps the single most important regents policy we have. It's the umbrella under which all of our other policies and procedures really live. This is like a mission statement for behavior. It's the core of what we expect to be part of our community. So, if any regents policy is going to be amended, this is the most significant one. This is our statement to the community and to everybody else about what we expect about being a good steward. And it's institutionalized. It's not a statement from an officer. It's not a news article or a seminar. It's part of our core. In the way that we're structured, it's policy, and Board of Regents policies at the University are law for the University.

I think we do have a compliant culture. The code of conduct is one of the tools that we all can use to continue and enhance that. And it's based on values. Of course we're committed to meeting our legal obligations, but the code really moves beyond that and is much more about doing the right thing.

Why was it updated?

The first code was adopted in 1996 as part of changes to meet the spirit and requests of the National Institutes of Health, so it was written through the lens of the NIH--broadly but with an emphasis specifically on research-related issues.

Since 1996, there has been a sea change in expectations for governance and accountability for organizations of every variety, not just for-profit. We've seen this in particular in the legislation following the collapse of Enron and Tyco and other corporate scandals. There's an evolution of thinking about how to establish accountability based on the experience that establishing ethical principles, commitments, and aspirational values is by far most effective in engendering confidence and commitment to an institution--and better behavior. We don't follow the rules just because there's a law behind them. We try to act ethically. So the language and content of the revised code is developed through the lens of acknowledging and implementing institutional values.

Is there any part of the code that you think is particularly important?

If I had to pick one section to highlight, it's in Part 3--Section 5. "Promote a culture of compliance." There are very few jobs at this institution that aren't covered by a whole array of policies and procedures and workplace rules that have their source in commitments that we've made to our stakeholders, either to the Minnesota legislature or to our students or to our federal sponsors. So everybody, whether they're overtly aware of it or not, has a whole series of workplace rules that they're expected to follow. We expect and have committed to our sponsors that our employees will be proactive in their own professional development and education and figure out what rules and policies and procedures relate to their job, and tools to get them done. We offer training, we encourage faculty and staff to talk to peers, to talk to managers, to talk to department heads, to talk to our many subject matter experts and ask questions. That's what you see here in the first expectation: to learn and follow the laws, regulations, contracts, and policies applicable to your activity. I think that the vast majority of compliance breakdowns are just mistakes, not knowing or not appreciating the significance of something.

So what's the average employee supposed to do with this? What's the value in reading it?

Well, reading it by itself isn't nearly as useful as thoughtfully reflecting on how these principles translate to a person's job or faculty position, and how those principles can impact or promote a culture that is consistent with our goals--especially in this time of transformation. It would be wonderful to see the code used in staff meetings and in team meetings as a vehicle to create dialogue about workplace behavior and a safer way to be a catalyst for that.

Raising concerns about conduct

Schumacher says one of the code's implicit expectations is an environment where concerns of any kind can be raised at the "local level"--with a manager or department. Sometimes that's not practical, though. In fact, the U is required under a variety of laws and regulations to have confidential reporting mechanisms in place. One of those is Ureport, introduced at the U in 2005.

"We've had a hotline in place--actually, several of them for different things--since 1996 or earlier," says Schumacher. "Ureport eliminated duplication. The new functionality is that we can communicate with an anonymous reporter, which has been tremendously helpful."

For more information about Ureport, see the Office of Institutional Compliance.

It's to provide guidance, but we don't expect a faculty or staff member to run to a policy to deal with every workplace situation--we don't have policies for every workplace situation. Instead we want to promote core principles of action that can lead to good decisions. For example, if we're looking at discrimination or harassment--concerns about workplace atmosphere--the policy talks generally about our commitment to a fair and respectful workplace and a diverse community. But for particular concerns, we would expect a faculty or staff member who wants to know more to read the University's policies on that, and read our guidelines, and contact our offices. If you're looking for particulars about workplace rules, you should rely on the specific policies, which were drafted with care and precision that we don't want to lose through a generalization.

Then there's the part of managers, department heads, faculty, and others internalizing this and thinking, "Well, what can I tell the people who work around me about this?" I mean, who'd disagree with "Promote efficient operations," that we're going to prevent waste and abuse? But what do you do? For example, if someone is using office resources for personal things, we should be able to say, "That's really not an appropriate use of University property and equipment" and address it. The best environment is one where every worker feels that it's safe to raise an issue...just setting a tone that, if the boss doesn't do it, no one else does it--it's just not an appropriate way to do business. And then I think, also, be reasonable.

What about on the work-group level? For example, mine is eight people who report to a manager.

That's the best place to do it. One way is at a performance review. A lot of people get a document from their manager ahead of time saying, "Let me know your accomplishments." That document could include, "Where do you relate to the code of conduct? What concerns do you have about our workplace, generally?" or "What could I do to make it easier to raise workplace concerns you have?" That makes it not just the manager telling someone but gets a dialogue going.

I think every U employee has been exposed to the code of conduct because it's in new employee orientation, it's in an annual communication either from the president's office or from the dean, and there are different places it's been promoted. But unless it's contextualized, it's hard to expect people to internalize it.

What's a concrete example of how the code and policies relate?

The vast majority of policies have as their source some federal responsibility or law. We didn't make them up. Take for example our acceptable-use-of-technology policies. One of the things we require is that people use anti-virus software to connect to our Internet. Well, why do we do that? Because the cost and expense of dealing with viruses is just immense, and we've concluded that the most effective and efficient way to prevent significant disruption to an individual, to a department, and sometimes to the University, is to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. That's an example of a policy that facilitates an expected practice or behavior, not because there's a legal obligation, but because it makes tremendous sense and it's in everybody's interest that it's done that way.


You can see both the "Code of Conduct" and "Student Code of Conduct" at Board of Regents Policies under "Academic."