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New Web Site is Resource for Ethics Concerns

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April 12, 2005

A new web site providing information on ethics policies and compliance with regulations will be available starting today (April 14), University officials announced.

The new web site and an accompanying telephone hotline provide faculty, students and staff additional ways to raise concerns about potentially unethical behavior or inappropriate actions by members of the University community, said Michael J. Moody, director of compliance in the auditing department.  Several departments within the University already have established procedures for receiving possible complaints; the new web site and hotline are designed to augment those procedures, not replace them, Moody said.

“By establishing a formal mechanism for people to raise concerns, we can ensure that those issues are handled in an effective and consistent manner and are brought to the attention of the appropriate people within the University,” Moody said.

The new web site <www.northwestern.edu/ethics> includes University policy links and contact information for the respective offices that can answer any questions about these policies. It also includes information on a new “ethics hotline” being set up by the University and operated by EthicsPoint, Inc. a firm that specializes in creating and operating confidential hotlines for organizations. The hotline phone number is 866-294-3545. Complaints may be filed by phone or through the web site and may be made anonymously if a person prefers, Moody said.

Passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 mandated the creation of such mechanisms in publicly traded companies. While Northwestern and other not-for-profit organizations do not fall under that act, many universities, including Northwestern, are using Sarbanes-Oxley as a benchmark for best practices, said Betty McPhilimy, assistant vice president for auditing and compliance.

“Northwestern can be held responsible for the wrongful acts of its employees, if those employees were acting in their official capacity. That could result in fines from the federal government and damage the University’s reputation,” McPhilimy said. “Therefore, by establishing this mechanism, we can help provide an effective means of preventing and reporting any such occurrences.”

Audit supervisor Joan Trimuel helped coordinate a committee with members from academic, research, and administrative offices which considered several ways of augmenting the University’s ethics and compliance efforts. The group met for more than a year, Trimuel said.

When a complaint or report is filed, it is then reviewed by Northwestern personnel in accordance with current University procedures including those described in the faculty or staff handbooks and then handled as promptly and discreetly as possible, Moody said. “Facts are made available only to those who need to know in order to investigate and resolve the matter, and both EthicsPoint and Northwestern are committed to safeguarding the identity of individuals who submit reports,” he added.

Topics: University