U work group proposes solutions for ethics noncompliance

Faculty members say they feel slighted by the school’s failure to consult them in the process.

Brian Edwards

After alleged ethical violations arose at the University of Minnesota last week, some faculty members are critical of the school’s proposed solutions.
 
 
A University ethics review group gave preliminary suggestions to the Board of Regents on Thursday that included the creation of an ethics program within the Office of Institutional Compliance. But faculty members criticized the group for not seeking out their input to build the program, and others are skeptical of the University’s intentions.
 
 
Amy Phenix, chief of staff for President Eric Kaler, said the school looked to peer institutions for guidance on how other schools handle ethical compliance.
 
 
The University sent questionnaires to the schools, as well as businesses in the private sector, she said.
 
 
Phenix, along with Gail Klatt, the associate vice president of the University’s Office of Internal Audit, consulted with the board and the Faculty Consultative Committee, which heard the group’s recommendations at a meeting earlier this month.
 
 
Though the recommendations were well-received overall, some FCC members criticized the group’s failure to consult with faculty earlier.
 
 
FCC chair and pharmacology associate professor Colin Campbell pointed to Kaler’s charge, which called for the work group to ask faculty members how possible changes could affect them.
 
 
“You did everything you were supposed to do except consult with faculty,” Campbell said at the meeting. “It seems like a mindset.”
 
 
Phenix said the criticisms were fair. The group should have consulted with faculty earlier in the process, she said.
 
 
Campbell said the FCC has been working to increase the communication between administrators and faculty in programs like these.
 
 
Asking for faculty consultation may slow down the process, he said, but excluding faculty members alienates them from the administration.
 
 
“Faculty [has] a perspective that is helpful, even if we are no better at predicting the future,” Campbell said.
 
 
Gary Gardner, a professor in the Department of Horticultural Science, said at the meeting that the program could be structured to require departments with a higher risk of ethical violations to be subject to more scrutiny than others.
 
 
Leigh Turner, an associate professor in the Center for Bioethics, said he wasn’t sure whether this program would be helpful because of the University’s past actions.
 
 
“I don’t see an institution committed to fixing this,” he said.
 
 
The school is using a corrupted version of the “language of ethics” to distract people, Turner said, adding that it seems more like a public relations move than an actual attempt to fix the issues.
 
 
Turner said he’s seen disengagement of faculty members after multiple ethics violations at the school because past efforts to speak up were fruitless.
 
 
“If people are critical, they are ignored,” he said.
 
 
A number of issues within the University’s Department of Psychiatry, including recent allegations the school has challenged as false, points toward a department-wide issue,
Turner said, that is much harder to fix.
 
 
He said the fact that it took a month for the school to fully release ethics concerns in the psychiatry department seems to indicate that the University has not yet changed how it handles ethical violations.
 
 
“It’s a systematic problem,” he said. “It is embarrassing to the institution.”