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University Implements Anonymous Ethics Reporting Hotline And Website

This year marks the first that Boston College has implemented an anonymous, third-party service for reporting University-related ethical concerns through the use of an Ethics Hotline and ethics reporting website, both of which are modeled around principles established through BC’s Professional Standards and Business Conduct policy guide.

Previously managed by the former director of the internal audit department, campus ethical concerns spanning employment areas from athletics to academic research were fielded by a non-anonymous phone number linked to the internal audit office. Current internal audit director Ann Harte—who oversees various financial audit activities and risk analysis—said that the new anonymity of the line is an improved measure of ensuring the protection of those seeking to file a report.

“An ethics hotline really compliments a compliance program because you want to make sure everybody is doing the right thing, and you want to give people a way to let you know if they are not doing the right thing,” Harte said.
Now, the internal audit department has shifted the fielding of those concerns directly to a third-party vendor called EthicsPoint, through which calls made via the ethics hotline will be initially handled by the firm and subsequently handled by calling the appropriate University department directly or an online processing form.

“It shouldn’t have been in the director of internal audit’s office anyways … it’s really a management tool, and internal audit is supposed to be independent of that,” said Harte, who, during the process of redesigning University ethics reporting, also said she worked with Executive Vice President Patrick Keating to initiate the hotline.

“We’ve moved to an external vendor because they are well known in the industry and they guarantee anonymity, although it’s still really hard to get people to believe that it’s truly anonymous, but that’s what they do,” Harte said.

When filing an online report on EthicsPoint, complainants are offered eight categories through which concerns are categorized: academic affairs matters; athletics; financial matters and fiscal misconduct; research misconduct; student affairs matters; technology/data security matters; workplace misconduct; and other matters.

Upon completing a report, those filing an ethical concern are asked to revisit that report up to 14 business days later, when EthicsPoint will have updated its status regarding additional feedback provided by EthicsPoint administrators, or further information may be requested for a complete investigation. Online users are provided a report key and individual password to monitor their submission.

Although the two platforms now offer a way for BC community members to formally submit concerns surrounding potentially unethical matters, Harte reflected that neither the hotline nor the online report portal should serve as a first measure for filing a complaint.

“This isn’t the first place that people should go,” she said. “They should contact their immediate supervisor or their faculty advisor, or their dean, or the provost, or [Human Resources] to work on these things. This is really for people who have a very serious ethical concern and they’re afraid that there might be retaliation if they go the normal route.

“This is not 911—so if there’s something that’s a huge emergency, they shouldn’t go on to the Ethics Point website, they should call BCPD or 911,” Harte said.

Harte noted that the anonymous reporting measures are also designed more for University faculty, staff, and administrators than students.

“It’s really not geared toward students—they have their own academic avenues to make a complaint through the Provost’s Office or the deans and that sort of thing,” she said. “Now, if there was a student working on some research for a professor and thought there was some kind of misconduct going on—absolutely that would be something we want to know.”

The EthicsPoint website is also hosted on secured, third-party internet servers that are separated from BC’s websites and computing systems as an additional measure of confidentiality. Hotline users are asked to direct reports through the toll-free phone number at (855) 327-4477.

November 10, 2014