August 2, 2004

Emory developing ethics code


By Michael Terrazas

Last fall, at the behest of President Jim Wagner, the Emory community worked collaboratively to develop a vision statement that captures where the University sees itself going. Now Emory will develop a code of ethics that will state how individuals should conduct themselves to get there.

In an all-campus e-mail on July 13, Wagner presented a draft version of the code and urged community members to respond. The process is reminiscent of that used to develop the vision statement, with the administration suggesting language as a starting point and then amending that language as faculty, staff, students and others react.

"A code of ethics helps us declare to the world and to each other how we will work to implement our vision," Wagner said. "It's in the interest of our trustees, as well as simply the right thing to do, to put together a document that's explicit about how we will work with and honor each other."

That phrase--the "right thing to do"--is both included in the draft code of ethics and used to explain the decision to develop the code in the first place. Wagner said the initiative, much like a decision earlier this summer to amend financial reporting practices, is in response to the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which requires for-profit organizations to take certain steps to ensure ethical behavior.

As an institution of higher education, Emory is not legally bound to take any action in response to Sarbanes-Oxley. It is, again, simply the right thing to do, according to Kent Alexander, senior vice president and general counsel.

"None of it specifically applies to us, but it strikes all of us, the trustees and the administrators, as a good and ethical governance practice," Alexander said. "We're pretty far ahead of the game, from a national perspective, because we've already implemented some things, and this code of ethics is just one more piece to put in place."

Alexander looked at codes of ethics not only at other universities but at corporations, and he said they vary widely; some are brief paragraphs, while others go on at length. In developing a code that is uniquely Emory's, he said the goal was to arrive at "guiding principles."

And Wagner was quick to point out that the code of ethics is not a policy, per se. It will have no provisions for enforcement or penalties for those who do not abide by it. But the hope is that, in time, it will become ingrained in the Emory culture much like has happened in less than a year with the vision statement.

"It is hard to argue with a statement that encourages ethical behavior and shuns lying, cheating, plagiarism and other kinds of fraud," Alexander said. "But far from being pablum, it should become a guiding ethic for the University, something we can always refer back to."

Both the vision statement and the code of ethics, Wagner said, are part of an overarching drive toward self-definition and goal-setting that also includes the strategic planning process. Some of the language in the ethics code was lifted from the University's mission statement--which itself could be amended in the near future.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all to see the mission statement change; it should be looked at as the strategic plan matures," Wagner said. "The end of the planning process, next April or May, would be a very good time to look back over our shoulders and make sure all the components we have--the vision statement, the mission statement, the ethics code, the strategic plan--are in harmony."

To provide adequate response time for faculty and others who have been gone for the summer, Wagner has asked for comments on the code of ethics to be submitted to University Secretary Gary Hauk by Sept. 15. Once the responses are compiled and examined for common themes, the code will be amended and then formally presented to governance groups (Council of Deans, University Senate, Employee Council, etc.) for review and approval before it is submitted to the Board of Trustees.

Code of Ethics (draft)

Emory University is an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse community, committed to fostering openness of thought, experience and culture; to building on a heritage of engaging knowledge and faith; to enhancing the environment through innovative stewardship; to instilling integrity and honor; and to nurturing and celebrating an unusual degree of collegiality and community. All of these commitments will be exercised in a fair, honest and open manner and with respect for the rights and dignity of all persons.

The University has a three-part mission: teaching, research and service, including health care. The fundamental relationships upon which this University is based are those among students, teachers, researchers, patients and their families, and service professionals. While fulfilling its mission, Emory will protect those relationships from exploitation for purely personal gain or base motives.

Emory University is committed to fostering and maintaining mutual respect and tolerance for all members of the community. Each member of the Emory community takes responsibility for respecting the rights and dignity of others, for treating others fairly, and for striving for honesty in all of our relationships.

Lying, cheating, plagiarism, deliberate misrepresentation, theft, scientific fraud, dishonesty or ill use of our fellow human beings will not be tolerated. The University's resources--and resources entrusted to Emory that belong to others--are to be protected from misappropriation in all forms.

All conflicts of interest on the part of faculty, staff, students, trustees and the University as a whole are to be promptly and openly identified and disclosed, and appropriate steps are to be taken either to eliminate the conflicts or to ensure they do not compromise the integrity of individuals or of the University.

Finally, while compliance with all legal requirements is of paramount importance and may often overlap with ethical behavior, we understand that ethical behavior remains quite distinct from the law, and we must never lose sight of "doing the right thing," even if there is no governing legal requirement to do so.