Spotlight on the importance of compliance and ethics
From mask wearing to physical distancing guidelines and even rules regulating appropriate Zoom backgrounds, compliance has been a part of daily lingo since the coronavirus pandemic began.
But compliance is not unique to COVID-19. It exists in all aspects of life and business.
While Virginia Tech has complied with laws and regulations since its beginning, requirements continue to increase in visibility and emphasis. President Tim Sands affirmed the university’s commitment to integrity, a culture of compliance, and the promotion of the highest ethical standards for all employees when he formed the Institutional Compliance Program in 2017. The Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance coordinates the compliance program and helps the university community meet its compliance obligations and manage risks.
Corporate Compliance & Ethics Week, which is Nov. 1-7, was created to shine a spotlight on these topics. Through events and education, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, a national organization, seeks to inform the public about the ways that policies and procedures make the world and business successful.
“Compliance is essential to all that we do at Virginia Tech,” said Dwayne Pinkney, who is the senior vice president and chief business officer at Virginia Tech. “As a public institution, it is our duty to follow rules and regulations in our operations and to uphold the public’s trust. We should strive to do the right thing every day, but this week reminds us of this tremendous responsibility.”
The Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance recently launched an anonymous online hotline for people across the university to report fraud, waste, abuse, and noncompliance concerns. Coined the Hokie Hotline, it allows individuals to report everything from conflicts of interest to unethical research practices. Reports are routed to the appropriate departments for follow up and action.
“We comply with regulations because it’s the right thing to do,” said Charity Boyette, who is chief of staff for the Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance. “Compliance is what we do, and ethics is why we do it.”
Training in ethical research practices also has received a boost at Virginia Tech in the past year. The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation has been leading half-day compliance training virtually for university researchers, with a focus on ethics education and creating a culture of integrity. A variety of speakers have joined the training sessions to discuss bullying in research, the importance of citing scholarly work correctly, and ethical statistical analysis, said Kory Trott, director of the office’s research integrity and consultation program and leader of the workshops.
“Virginia Tech takes a whole university approach to ethics and compliance,” Trott said. “Every individual has a role to play.”
Compliance and objectivity are particularly important in the research realm, because public trust is critical, he added.
“Without trust in the research enterprise, we really can’t do the work we do,” Trott said. “Without objectivity and integrity, we cannot do what we need to do as a university, which is trying to solve these pressing global problems.”
Compliance is stressed in many other areas of the university.
July 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At Virginia Tech, the Office for Equity and Accessibility is dedicated to institutional civil rights compliance and the ADA. The ADA is an expansive law that covers reasonable employment and academic accommodations and accessibility in public services, telecommunications, and public transportation.
One of the recent areas of focus at Virginia Tech has been improving physical accessibility on campus, a collaborative effort with the Office of University Planning, Renovations, Facilities Services, and the University Building Official.
Virginia Tech has committed approximately $3 million, including maintenance reserve funds, over the past four years for ADA accessibility improvements.
Also, all salaried Virginia Tech employees are required to review and acknowledge the university’s Statement of Business Conduct Standards when they begin work. It pulls together key business principles and expectations of employees from existing university policies.
At times, there are reminders of the standards as they relate specifically with current events, such as encouraging employees to separate political activity from the workplace, including the use of political opinions in email signatures or Zoom backgrounds during an election season, said David Crotts, who is director of strategic initiatives and business analysis for Capital Assets and Financial Management at Virginia Tech.
Ultimately, the university’s integrity and reputation are in the hands of its faculty and staff, said Sharon Kurek, executive director of the Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance at Virginia Tech. Each person makes an important contribution to the university's overall success by conducting business in accordance with its policies and procedures.