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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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New Web site lets students file concerns

Anonymous complaints against anyone at Northwestern can now be reported through a centralized Web site for ethical grievances.

Previously scattered around NU’s Web site, contact information for ethical complaints was moved Friday into a central location, The Web site includes contact information for EthicsPoint, an “ethical hotline” hired by NU that provides an avenue for whistleblowers, according to Michael J. Moody, director of auditing compliance.

EthicsPoint provides an online form that people can use to report violations in areas such as criminal activity, financial matters, research, athletics or academic misconduct. The service is available at all hours of the day.

EthicsPoint and other ethics hotlines weren’t designed with universities in mind. Until recently they were primarily used by private companies to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

NU decided to make reporting complaints more accessible following the law, which was passed in reaction to corporate financial scandals such as those at Enron Corp. and WorldCom, said Keith Halasy, director of marketing at EthicsPoint. The law requires private companies to improve the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures.

One way companies do this is by hiring independent companies, such as EthicsPoint, to provide a system in which whistleblowers can send complaints without fear of retribution.

Universities aren’t required to follow the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, but they are increasingly following its guidelines to reduce risk of corporate fraud, said Keith Halasy, the director of marketing at EthicsPoint.

Universities began contacting EthicsPoint last year, Halasy said. Other schools, such as Cornell University, Tufts University and Rice University also use the program.

“Schools are doing it to empower stakeholders — primarily the students and employees — if they see activities outside of compliance,” Halasy said.

NU’s system allows students to report complaints. While some schools, including NU, have expanded the service to include reports of academic dishonesty, Halasy said, many schools are cautious about giving students access to the process.

“As soon as you see this as students using it to report professors, it raises a number of issues,” Halasy said.

Guy Miller, NU’s associate vice president for human resources and a member of the planning committee, said the university always planned to allow students to make complaints.

“We wanted to make this available to all sources to record observations,” Miller said. “This gives people the opportunity to protect the university’s good name without themselves risking recrimination.”

Moody said EthicsPoint is another way to report grievances. But it won’t replace the methods for reporting complaints that are already in place, such as directly contacting school administrators.

Through EthicsPoint, copies of the complaint are sent to the NU auditing department and the appropriate supervisor. Even if the complaint is sent anonymously, the auditing department can respond to those who sent it. The people named in the complaint don’t receive a copy of the report.

“Often when you receive an anonymous letter you can’t interact,” Moody said. “(EthicsPoint) allows for an ongoing dialogue.”

Some students said they worry the ease of using the new system will lead to false accusations.

Communication senior Anne Korajczyk said the service could be valuable to whistleblowers, but can be a “double-edged sword.”

“If the claims are unfounded, no one will know how to investigate,” Korajczyk said.

Weinberg freshman Sophia Diaz also said she worried that the ease of filing a complaint could lead to false allegations.

“There’s something too easy about it,” she said.

Reach Diana Scholl at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
New Web site lets students file concerns