Integrity monitor recommends early end to oversight, lauds University compliance

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The third annual assessment of Penn State’s ethics and compliance efforts released today (Sept. 21) not only lauds the University for its continued progress, but also recommends an early end to the mandated monitoring that has been in place since 2012.

The monitoring, required by an Athletics Integrity Agreement (AIA) among the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Penn State,  was expected to continue through 2017. Independent monitor Charles P. Scheeler, who has been tracking Penn State's progress in meeting the goals of the agreement, indicated that the vast number of improvements Penn State has made over the last three years has led him to recommend termination of his oversight two years earlier than expected.

“Given Penn State’s progress and the commitments made by (University) President Eric Barron, I recommended to the NCAA and Big Ten Conference the early conclusion of the monitorship at the end of the 2015 calendar year,” Scheeler said in the report. “I am gratified to report that both the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference have accepted my recommendation.”

The AIA was part of the consent decree imposed by the NCAA in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, which contained a number of prescriptive measures designed to ensure that the University continues to meet or exceed all applicable NCAA and Big Ten rules and standards of integrity. The complete text of the monitor’s annual report, including information about Penn State’s actions, is available here.

“The end of this monitorship, essentially two years early, is the result of a focused, dedicated effort on the part of Penn State, and an awful lot of hard work from many, many individuals, from the Board of Trustees on down,” said President Barron. “It is yet another significant milestone in the University's recovery from an extraordinarily difficult and challenging set of circumstances, and I would be remiss if I did not recognize Penn State leaders and employees who worked diligently to implement hundreds of significant and meaningful changes in a short period of time, changes that have made us a leader in higher education on compliance issues."

Barron singled out past University President Rod Erickson and current Board of Trustees Chairman Keith Masser for their commitment to establishing a 'best practices' ethics, compliance and athletics integrity program for Penn State.

The report by Scheeler noted that his recommendation to end the monitorship follows on the heels of a number of positive reductions in penalties, including a recommendation in 2013 from Scheeler’s predecessor Sen. George J. Mitchell to reduce the NCAA sanctions and restore football scholarships. One year later, Mitchell gave a further recommendation of relief from sanctions based on Penn State’s ongoing and proven commitment to compliance and ensuring athletics integrity. In 2014, the NCAA eliminated Penn State’s postseason ban and returned the full complement of football scholarships for the 2015-16 season, “due to Penn State University’s significant progress.”

“It is certainly gratifying to see Mr. Scheeler’s recognition of the hard work by the administration and staff in making Penn State a model institution in terms our approach to compliance,” said Keith Masser, chairman of Penn State’s Board of Trustees. “We intend to continue our progress and remain a leader in this area, as well as other areas of importance.”

“Penn State’s progress has been noticed by others,” Scheeler said. “Moody’s Investor Services specifically cited ‘significantly strengthened governance and management practices’ in rating the University Aa2 with a positive outlook… in reaccrediting Penn State this spring, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education also commented that ‘many institutions talk about integrity, but Penn State lives integrity."

Scheeler also noted that other institutions, as well as government agencies are taking note of Penn State’s work in this area and are emulating it.

“Rutgers University recently created an athletics integrity position which resembles Penn State’s athletics integrity officer position,” Scheeler said in the report. “And the Department of Defense has sought guidance from the University regarding programs to address violence against women.”

Some of the “best practices” introduced by Penn State in the past three years that bring the University into conformity with, or beyond, prevailing standards include:

-- Created the Office of Ethics and Compliance and the Ethics and Compliance Council to coordinate, integrate and oversee all University compliance functions;
-- Developed an Ethics and Compliance Plan based on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations;
-- Hired an athletics integrity officer and changed the reporting line of the University’s athletics compliance office to the director of ethics and compliance rather than the athletic director;
-- Established appropriate reporting lines to the board to ensure accountability for senior administrators;
-- Adopted various reforms to enhance the quality of oversight provided by the Board of Trustees;
-- Introduced the Code of Responsible Conduct;
-- Enacted a formal policy review process that resulted in the creation or revision of policies and procedures regarding youth protection, facility security, reporting potential wrongdoing, anti-retaliation, discrimination and sexual harassment, employee background checks, and institutional financial conflicts of interest and board conflicts of interest;
-- Developed comprehensive compliance and ethics training and education programs;
-- Improved lines of communication and reporting mechanisms through the Ethics and Compliance Hotline, quarterly compliance newsletter, and message from the president each semester on reporting processes and promoting the University’s anti-retaliation policy;
-- Assigned specific risks identified through an enterprise risk management process to board committees to ensure proper oversight;
-- Developed and implemented a comprehensive action plan to ensure compliance with Title IX requirements and to address a national concern about sexual assault on campuses; and
-- Undertook a University-wide effort to promote a “see something, say something” climate and to enforce the University’s anti-retaliation policy.
-- Instituted a series of policies to correct and promote appropriate conduct (Policy AD88: Code of Responsible Conduct; Policy AD67: Disclosure of Wrongful Conduct and Protection from Retaliation; Policy AD88: Code of Responsible Conduct; Policy AD83: Institutional Financial Conflict of Interest; HR101: Positions Requiring National Search Process; Policies AD86: Acceptance of Gifts and Entertainment; AD89: University Export Compliance Policy; and AD53: Privacy Statement)

"The landscape of higher education regulation is in constant flux, and campus compliance has been described as analogous to 'changing the tires on a moving car,'” Scheeler said in the report. "Not only has Penn State largely caught up with industry standards but, in many instances, it is at the leading edge of higher education compliance and governance efforts."

Last Updated September 21, 2015