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Originally published: 2012-11-19 11:34:25
Last modified: 2012-11-19 11:40:29

ASU utilizes whistle-blowing hotline

by Anna Oakes

Individuals can now report policy and legal violations or concerns related to Appalachian State University anonymously through a reporting hotline -- a cause for concern for a number of faculty members.

At the recommendation of Provost Lori Gonzalez, ASU recently contracted with EthicsPoint, a whistle-blowing software company that serves more than 2,400 organizations, according to its website.

"Sometimes ... individuals who have knowledge of compliance violations may be uncomfortable reporting them within university departments or units," Gonzalez said in a Nov. 15 message to campus. "In order to provide an additional point of contact in such circumstances, Appalachian has contracted with ... EthicsPoint to provide a hotline and website where anonymous reports may be made in confidence."

Through a website or via a telephone hotline, individuals are asked to select the type of report they would like to make from a list, which includes concerns related to accounting and financial matters, athletics, research and academic misconduct, health and safety, bias, harassment and discrimination, human resource and personnel matters, information technology, hazing and sexual assault. 

Definitions are provided for each of the 57 areas of concern listed.

Individuals are then asked to complete a form, which provides the option of remaining anonymous or providing a name and contact information.

According to a "Frequently Asked Questions" document about ASU's EthicsPoint program, a reporter who wishes to remain anonymous can return to the reporting site to answer follow-up questions from a university representative.

"If (a report) was deemed to have merit, an internal audit would likely occur," Gonzalez said in an email Nov. 17. "If at that time, evidence was discovered that corroborated the complaint, disciplinary action could be taken. It wouldn't be because of an anonymous report, but instead it would be based on evidence." 

ASU faculty members had a number of questions about the new hotline at the Nov. 12 monthly Faculty Senate meeting, which Gonzalez regularly attends. Gonzalez emphasized that the system is used in universities across the nation, including UNC-Chapel Hill, to report violations of law or policy.

Rich Crepeau, a faculty senator from the Department of Geography and Planning, asked what expectations faculty members have about the hotline. Gonzalez said ASU already has policies in place for such violations as sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

Karl Campbell, with the Department of History, asked if a student who complained that a faculty member created a hostile environment would remain anonymous.

"If a student gives a complaint that can't be followed up on, it stops there," Gonzalez replied.

Faculty at ASU have raised concerns about academic freedom and due process rights since ASU sociology professor Jammie Price was placed on involuntary administrative leave March 16.

Four students complained that Price made disparaging remarks about student athletes, repeatedly criticized the ASU administration, discussed personal material not on the syllabus and showed a pornography-related documentary without warning about the film's potentially objectionable content. ASU administrators said Price created a "hostile learning environment."

This fall, Price was granted a grievance hearing in which she contested the university's actions, stating they violated due process and academic freedom. The Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee agreed with Price in its Oct. 23 report.

The report also included a list of recommendations, including, "The committee unanimously recommends that, henceforth, all actionable complaints be put in writing by the complainant and that the accused should be granted the right to know who her accuser is and to know precisely what she is being accused of."