Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week, illustration of compliance check

Sarah Hill

Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week


What is your university doing to celebrate Corporate Compliance and Ethics Week? If you said “Striving to do better” you would not be the only institution to make that its goal.

November 1-7 is a week set aside for reviewing your university’s rules and regulations. While difficult to stay in strict compliance since laws that govern institutions are constantly in flux, creating a culture of compliance is arguably much more important than sending out missives regarding every change in laws, rules or regulations.

Knowing what is required

Researching the Higher Education Compliance Alliance (HECA) and its matrix, which maintains a centralized repository of free information and resources on federal laws and regulations, is a good place to start. It’s not difficult to remain compliant if you know what is required. Says Kirstin Holzschuh, executive director of the Research Integrity and Oversight office at the University of Houston: “Compliance always works best as a collaborative effort. On occasion we do have to investigate concerns of noncompliance. However, in over 25 years in the field, I find it very rare – almost nonexistent – to find issues of noncompliance that are intentional. In the vast majority of cases, the primary cause is a lack of awareness of one or more of the myriad regulatory requirements that govern research.”

Who exactly is in charge of that?

Institutions of higher learning tend to be siloed. Determining who is responsible for what is not always clear. “Institutions lacking a framework for reporting—making it unclear who, exactly, is responsible—have bigger challenges in managing compliance,” writes University

Universities may employ a compliance executive, ethics committee or an Office of Internal Audit or Risk Management to spearhead compliance efforts. At the University of Houston, the Research Integrity and Oversight office considers itself part of the research team, providing Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) education and regulatory guidance to assist faculty, staff, and students in conducting research within applicable ethical boundaries. 

Biggest pushes

According to 2017 Scenario Learning, a third-party training organization, the top four most-completed SafeColleges training courses cover topics related to Title IX, sexual violence, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment for staff and students. Accidents and incidents all tend to decline when a well-informed reporting structure is implemented.

Costly and time-consuming

Anywhere from seven to 11 percent of an institution’s operating budget may be spent on staying compliant. A Vanderbilt University study estimated that as much as $27 billion is the overall price tag for compliancy in higher education. Labor is cited as the costliest of the aspects of keeping on top of ethical issues. Then, technology for tracking and reporting incidents.

Avoiding scandal

Scandals are all over the news in higher education and in the era of “Me Too.” While fines and possible imprisonment can punish those who are in non-compliance, it’s a much better decision to err on the side of caution and get ahead of issues before they have a chance to hurt your reputation. From racist tweets to sexual misconduct, higher education is held up to great scrutiny, and it should be. After all, educating the next generation is a monumental task. These are the issues that keep your university’s lawyers up at night and should be front of mind this coming November.

A partnership, not the ‘police’

“Maintaining a partnership with the research community allows us to redirect minor issues before they become major issues, thus avoiding timely delays in disseminating research results and reducing risk for both the Principal Investigator and the university,” says Holzschuh.