Penn State addresses continued challenges revealed by follow-up survey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Following the release of the results of the second Values and Culture Survey conducted in fall 2017, Penn State’s leadership has announced a series of new and ongoing initiatives focused on addressing challenges and maintaining forward momentum in areas of strength. Leaders are adding to the plan developed in 2014, which was created in response to the inaugural 2013 Values and Culture Survey.

“Although we’ve made great progress,” said Penn State President Eric Barron, “our work isn’t done. I thank the Penn State community for its participation in the follow-up survey, and for their valuable insight. With the community’s help, we’ve identified some persistent issues that we need to continue to address, as well as some new ones that we need to tackle. We will continue to be guided by the Penn State Values, as we endeavor to make our great institution even greater. This will be a sustained effort —a marathon, not a sprint.”

The 2017 survey results will be the subject of a June 25 Town Hall meeting.

Among the steps taken since the original 2013 survey:

Challenges identified by the new survey include:

  • Reported misconduct: After the 2013 survey, the University put in place a more robust reporting process for misconduct and made efforts to increase awareness of resources and responsibilities for reporting misconduct. These efforts have helped contribute to increased reports of abusive or intimidating behavior and acts of bias and discrimination indicated in the 2017 survey;
  • Observed misconduct:Most of the misconduct observed occurred at the college or unit level. Because observed misconduct tends to be within the same office or area, supervisors play an important role in supporting those who report misconduct;
  • Off-campus misconduct:Undergraduates who responded to the survey reported that most misconduct they observed is committed by peers off campus. Observed misconduct included substance abuse, sexual misconduct and hazing;
  • Graduate student reporting: In the 2017 survey, graduate students indicated reluctance to report misconduct because they did not believe the observed misconduct was significant enough to report, or that corrective action would be taken. Graduate students also said the majority of observed misconduct is committed by those other than their peers; and
  • Retaliation for reporting: The rate of perceived retaliation for reporting misconduct was essentially stagnant between the 2013 and 2017 surveys in all groups.

What Penn State is doing

In response to these findings, Penn State’s leadership and the Office of Ethics and Compliance have developed a plan to attempt to address these challenges and maintain commitment to the areas where results improved. The steps to be taken include:

Revised supervisory training and educational efforts. Supervisors are critical to the strength of ethical culture, and most misconduct is reported to supervisors first. It is necessary to provide the proper tools, resources and support to supervisors to allow them to deal with these situations properly when they arise.

Increased education and transparency. A lack of trust in the reporting process and corrective actions taken still exists, so it is important to better communicate how the process works. Although specific outcomes can’t always be shared due to employee and student confidentiality, University leadership does take reports seriously and will share outcomes to the greatest extent possible.

“We are working toward collecting more comprehensive University-wide aggregate data on reports of misconduct and their resolution so we can publicly communicate them,” said Tim Balliett, University ethics officer. “This is important because we do act upon any report of misconduct. For example, in 2017, the Office of Ethics and Compliance and Penn State Hotline alone received 357 allegations of misconduct (up 232 percent from 2013). All of these allegations were taken seriously. Thirty percent of these allegations (106) were substantiated and resulted in appropriate action. Unfortunately, 19 percent of the allegations could not be investigated further because the anonymous reporter did not provide enough information. Thus better training and awareness on how to make a report and what to include in that report are key moving forward.”

Implementation of an anti-retaliation program. Penn State is exploring implementation of an anti-retaliation program similar to those in large for-profit organizations that enable check-ins with those who have reported misconduct and monitor their career growth for any abnormalities that may indicate potential retaliation. This will build upon Penn State’s recent initiatives that include: awareness programs of our non-retaliation policy (AD67: Disclosure of Wrongful Conduct and Protection from Retaliation); training for supervisors on how to address potentially retaliatory behaviors; and improved protocols protecting the confidentiality of the reporting and investigatory processes and anonymity of reporters. Improved education on what constitutes retaliation is also planned.

Maintain commitment to areas of improvement. Finance and Business’ Taking Action initiative will be used as a model to improve transparency and trust, and will be extended to other units, colleges and campuses in the coming years. Penn State’s leadership also will maintain focus on the Penn State Values and the demonstration of ethical leadership across all levels.

Finally, the University will continue to refine and improve trainings offered related to reporting misconduct, as well as revise policies and procedures to expand progress in these areas.

Last Updated June 04, 2018