Faculty Perspective: Reporting structures for ethics, compliance


As the outgoing past chair of the Faculty Senate (Colleen Conway) and the recent secretary of the Faculty Senate (David Potter) we write to urge University of Michigan faculty, staff and students to advocate for an office for ethics and compliance that reports directly to the Board of Regents to help protect members of the university community from retaliation in relation to reporting.

The Senate Assembly passed a resolution regarding this notion on April 18. (Read the full resolution.) The resolution is based on findings from SACUA’s WilmerHale Task Force (which was chaired by David Potter) and SACUA’s regular interactions with leaders from Guidepost Solutions, which was hired by the university to consult regarding sexual misconduct.

Both groups have found that the incidents of sexual misconduct involving Martin Philbert and others are a function of a broader administrative culture of retaliation which enables the favored few to escape the consequences of actions which would ordinarily result in severe sanction.

Although Martin Philbert’s conduct towards staff members was known, it was felt that he could be rehabilitated, and no record of his conduct was kept; Bruce Conforth was issued a warning letter despite clear evidence of serious misconduct. Additionally, a SACUA report which identified an administrator who had created a hostile work environment has been ignored amidst claims that only “malcontents” would object to their working conditions.

As SACUA’s WilmerHale group and the Guidepost Solutions consultants have pointed out, the university’s “siloed” reporting lines mean that faculty, students and staff may be identified to the administrators about whose conduct they wish to complain. This has a chilling effect on our community culture.

Currently, 60% of reports come to the university’s anonymous compliance hotline, which reports to the chief financial officer and is not the sort of independent office that we are recommending. We note also that 27% of complaints received by the university’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office are also anonymous. This too suggests that members of the community do not feel safe in bringing complaints of misconduct. Guidepost Solutions tells us that when complaints are made to university compliance offices overseen by independent governing boards, the typical percentage of anonymous complaints falls to 10-15%.

The way forward is to create a mechanism which enables some complaints to be filed outside the administrative chain of command. Guidepost Solutions has shown that institutions with similar misconduct incidents often create independent reporting lines to their board through the sort of office for ethics and compliance that the Senate Assembly has supported. In the past year, the following institutions have added such an office: Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt.

By promoting equity in the handling of disputes and laying the groundwork for a new culture of administrative accountability, these offices serve to rebuild trust. When they are successful these offices help shape a culture of mutual respect that reduces the incidence of abusive behavior of all sorts. The creation of a culture of fairness and accountability has been the thrust of much of SACUA’s work in recent years.

What you can do:

  1. Talk with your department chairs, deans, and directors to share your support.
  2. Write to the Faculty Senate Office to express your support of the Senate Assembly motion.
  3. Engage your colleagues in discussion of what an equitable workplace will look like.

Colleen Conway is a professor of music education in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and a former chair of the Faculty Senate. David Potter is a professor of Greek and Latin in LSA’s Department of Classical Studies, and a former secretary and former chair of the Faculty Senate.

Faculty Perspective is provided by The University Record as an opportunity for U-M faculty representatives to comment on university issues. Opinions presented are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the Record or the University of Michigan. Submissions are coordinated through the Faculty Senate Office.


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