Live from Austin, Texas – Ethics & Compliance Transformation at Penn State

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This morning all attendees at the Higher Ed & Research conference had the opportunity to hear from the key people who’ve transformed compliance and ethics at Penn State. Regis Becker, Chief Compliance Officer, Julie Del Giorno, Athletic Integrity Officer, and Sandy Weaver, Youth Protection Specialist gave the 500 of us some fantastic insights into how things have changed and improved over the last 18 months at the news-making institution.

Regis Becker began the program discussing his role and his goals as Penn State’s Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer. Knowing that his program would be subject to extreme scrutiny, Regis set out to overhaul the university’s entire compliance and ethics paradigm. Some of his key success include:

  • Establishing an Ethics & Compliance Council
    • Composed of senior members from throughout the university’s leadership
    • Everyone involved has a compliance function of some sort
    • Meets 10 times/year
  • Establishing compliance training requirements
    •  Worked to determine the training schemes for each population and stage of employment
    • Who needs what training, when, where, and how
  • Development of a Values Statement
    • Conducted a Values & Culture Survey in Fall 2013
      • Benchmarked these results against Big 10 + Northwestern
    • Policy will include Integrity, Respect, Responsibility, Excellence and Discovery
    • The new official values statement will be released Fall 2014
  • Developing a university-wide Code of Responsible Conduct

Second to speak was Julie Del Giorno, the Athletic Integrity Officer (AIO). Julie’s position was created by the Athletics Integrity Agreement (AIA)and Consent Decree resulting from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, making her position unique to Penn State. As part of the  AIA, Julie reports to the CECO, Regis, specifically taking the AIO role outside of the athletics department–preserving her independence.

Penn State Library
Penn State Library

It was fascinating to hear Julie speak to not only her program goals, but the programs and structure she’s implement to protect not only the student athletes, but the university as a whole.As a former collegiate athlete and coach, Julie has the unique perspective of knowing both sides of the coin. She understands what and how the coaches are thinking, while also having the skills and knowledge of an integrity and compliance officer.

Through unique initiatives like head coaches forums and the athletic directors leadership institute, she’s been able to move the athletics department toward a culture that encourages taking actions when wrong-doing has occurred and ensures that employees who do report are not fearful of retaliation.

Perhaps the most impressive evidence of the shift at Penn State is the athletic code of conduct. Every coach, administrator, and athlete must sign the code, and agree to be held to it. While must of the code is what you’d expect, one of the provisions really stood out:

All “covered persons” have an affirmative duty to report violations. Meaning every single coach and athlete is charged with reporting any and everything they see that falls outside of the code of conduct–in person or anonymously. It seems simple, but what an important step to creating an ethical and compliance culture.

We were also fortunate enough to hear from Sandy Weaver, Penn State’s Youth Protection Specialist. interestingly, Penn State has 150,000 minors participating in youth programs. As you can imagine, the spotlight has been on how the university can and will protect these minors.

Through the establishment of a Youth Programs Council, PSU Hotline & ChildLine (Pennsylvania’s child abuse reporting hotline) and extensive training and background requirements, Penn State has been able to build a structure in which the youth programs, and those participating in them, can thrive.

Overall, it seems that Penn State has taken their time in the spotlight seriously, and heeded the calls for changing the status quo. Because of these changes, and a commitment to compliance, ethics, and integrity,  I predict we’ll soon be able to hold up Penn State as a model university compliance program, a phoenix of sorts.

“Don’t get too big for your britches. Have courage and have humility.” – Regis Becker