University Park

Penn State moving to address challenges revealed through University-wide survey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s leadership is moving to implement a comprehensive plan to address challenges surfaced by the Penn State Values and Culture Survey, whose results were released on Sept. 19. The Ethics Resource Center (ERC), an independent, nonprofit organization, conducted the survey last October. All students, faculty and staff at all Penn State campuses had the opportunity to participate.

LEARN MORE: Read about the top findings and access in-depth survey data.

The survey results showed remarkable unity, with 95 percent of all respondents reporting either a moderate or strong personal connection to the University community, and reporting that academic life is central to that connection. The results also shed light on challenges surrounding the reporting of observed misconduct and perceived retaliation and intimidation in the workplace — issues University leadership is swiftly moving to address.

“I first want to thank members of the staff, faculty and student body for sharing honest feedback about their experiences at Penn State. As with any community, we face our share of challenges, and this survey has cast a light upon areas that require immediate attention,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. "It is paramount that members of this community have the opportunity to work and learn in an environment free of intimidation, and that they feel confident in their ability to report misconduct."

Overall, 58 percent of those who took the survey said that, in the past 12 months, they observed at least one type of behavior they considered to be a “violation of University policy or the law.” Of that 58 percent, nearly 75 percent said they did not report the problem. Many who chose not to report said they didn’t take action because they believed the problem was not significant enough, however, 31 percent said they are unfamiliar with available resources and the process for reporting misconduct; 38 percent said they did not believe corrective action would be taken if they did report; and 38 percent said they did not believe they could report anonymously. For full results and access to in-depth survey data, including information about these issues, follow this link.

The results also suggest that among staff members who chose to report misconduct in the past year, 18 percent said they feel they experienced retaliation as a result. Among staff members who chose not to report, 30 percent said they held back because they were afraid of losing their job, and the same percentage of staff members said they elected not to report again because of their previous experiences with reporting misconduct. These results were significantly higher for staff than they were for faculty and students.

In addition, 35 percent of all staff members surveyed said that in the past 12 months they have “observed abusive and intimidating behavior” (including bullying) that created a hostile work environment. A majority of staff members (55 percent) who said they had observed such behavior also said they did not report it.

“Penn State’s leadership takes your feedback seriously. Your clear voice on these issues is the first step to taking corrective action,” Barron wrote in a letter to Penn State students, faculty and staff. “It is critical that we, as the University’s leaders, provide you with the resources and support that you need in order to confidently report misconduct. It is equally important that we take steps to ensure that your workplaces and classrooms are free from intimidation.”

Barron has announced a plan to enhance existing training and development programs in order to address challenges highlighted by the survey (outlined below). The plan was developed by the University Office of Ethics and Compliance, in consultation with the Advisory Council on Continued Excellence, the University Ethics Committee, the University Staff Advisory Council, the Office of Human Resources, the Ethics and Compliance Council and senior administrators.

In the coming days and weeks, additional details about these changes will be shared with the Penn State community. A list of current resources available to faculty, staff and students for the reporting of wrongdoing is available at this link.

The steps to be taken focus on educational, communication and structural initiatives, including:

1) Stronger communications / enhancements involving protections for those who report observed misconduct. These will include:

  • A renewed effort to communicate with students, faculty and staff about resources and policies involving the reporting of misconduct, and about protections for those who report misconduct.
  • Development of protocols for Office of Ethics and Compliance check-ins with self-disclosed reporters to ensure appropriate follow-up and protection from retaliation.
  • Greater emphasis on Administrative Policy AD67.
  • Resources for management and leadership on appropriate responses to allegations of misconduct and receiving allegations of misconduct.
  • Increasing transparency by providing aggregate results of University allegations/investigations of misconduct.
  • Collaboration with Student Affairs, Undergraduate Education, the Graduate School and others on appropriate educational programming for students, including education about reporter protections.
  • Increased collaboration to identify issues and concerns, most notably with University Staff Advisory Council and the University’s task forces on bystander intervention and on sexual violence and harassment.
  • Increased communication and emphasis on these issues by University leaders.

2) Augment ethics-related supervisory and leadership training in collaboration with the Office of Human Resources and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. This will include enhancements to annual ethics training for senior administrators, including the president and vice presidents, deans, chancellors and members of the Board of Trustees. This also will include enhancements to management/leadership training for incoming staff supervisors, coordinators, managers and directors.

3) In collaboration with Faculty Senate, University Staff Advisory Council, and others, drafting revisions to administrative policy AD47 (Standards of Ethical Conduct) to outline expectations of professional conduct for faculty, staff, administration, and student employees.

4) Develop an ethical decision-making model that incorporates the Penn State Values for use throughout the University. 

Last Updated September 19, 2014