“Hello, this is Mary at the Campus Conduct Hotline. Do you wish to file a claim or are you checking the status of a case?”
You might hear something like this if you call Concordia’s Campus Conduct Hotline, a confidential, independent, 24/7 call-in service, which allows complaints to be submitted anonymously. The Campus Conduct Hotline is part of the whistleblower policy on campus that provides protection from demotion or firing of employees when reporting wrongdoing.
What is the Campus Conduct Hotline?
The Campus Conduct Hotline connects a Concordia employee who wishes to file a complaint, but either is afraid to come forward or doesn’t know how to go about it internally, to a trained specialist. The Campus Conduct Hotline is staffed by specialists in psychology or social services like Mary, who says they immediately ask the source if they would like to remain anonymous, then conduct an interview from a prepared list of questions.
The Campus Conduct Hotline records all of the information from the source and sends the report to Concordia. All information must be received during the initial phone call from the anonymous source since the specialists at the Hotline cannot contact them later. The specialist assigns a case number to the source and asks them to call the Hotline back in five business days, when a Hotline specialist will be able to read them the response from Concordia.
Concordia already has policies and procedures for complaints of any nature, from unethical grading practices to sexual harassment. Linda Brown, vice president for finance and treasurer of the college, said the Campus Conduct Hotline is simply another avenue to address a concern.
“You can go through the policies and practices that we have defined,” Brown said. “But if for whatever reason, you’re afraid, or don’t know how to do that, then here’s another way you can do this.”
Concerns about the Campus Conduct Hotline
Some faculty members have concerns about the Campus Conduct Hotline’s facility of anonymous complaints. Cathy McMullen, associate professor of English, said she fears a great potential for abuse of the Hotline and composed a letter to the Faculty Executive Committee about her concerns. It makes it easy for someone to file a complaint that is false and based solely on a grudge, she said.
“I just think our American system of justice is based on the right to face our accuser,” she said.
Psychology Professor Mark Covey agrees that the anonymity capability of the Hotline is cause for concern, and he wrote to Brown about his unease with the anonymity of the Hotline. Covey said he believes that any action based on anonymity is against academia and what Concordia does as an institution.
Covey thinks the policies in place are sufficient and that Concordia has been very conscientious about publishing information about policies and procedures for a complaint of any kind. If someone still doesn’t know what to do, he said, they can simply ask.
“We are a community,” he said. “If you don’t know how to lodge a complaint, you could find someone to give you advice—supervisors, peers, professors, deans.”
English professor James Postema said he and his wife have had previous experiences with harassment in the workplace, and he definitely sees the reasoning behind the Hotline. Postema said some kind of channel is necessary because if the victimizer is the only one to complain to, then it’s impossible to address the issue at hand.
But Postema also sees the need to be apprehensive with the Hotline. Postema, former associate dean in the Office of Academic Affairs, used to investigate student complaints on a regular basis. He said nine times out of 10, the complaint was not justifiable for any action.
“You have to handle complaints very carefully,” he said.
Postema believes that someone in authority should know whom the person filing the complaint is in order to judge the appropriateness of the charge. He doesn’t think the college should act on something that is completely anonymous, with no one who is willing to stand behind the complaint. Postema wrote to Brown and Mark Krejci, provost and dean of the college, about his concern about the anonymity of the Hotline.
Brown said she can see where the concerns are coming from, but said that just because a concern is expressed does not mean that the college will leap to a conclusion for action. Brown said after a concern is expressed through the Hotline and funneled to Concordia, then fact-finding must be done before any action is taken.
“If they’re false, there won’t be any facts to find,” she said. “I sympathize with the concern, but I don’t think it’s a concern that will be realized.”
How does the Campus Conduct Hotline work with Concordia’s policies?
When Concordia receives a report from the Campus Conduct Hotline, the complaint is processed in the same way it normally would be if the concern were brought internally and is investigated via the policies and practices in place.
Krejci said it depends on the nature of the complaint if Concordia can investigate a concern from an anonymous source. The Campus Conduct Hotline is available to everyone at Concordia, but it is intended for employee use for workplace-related issues primarily, since it would be difficult, if not impossible, to follow up on an anonymous student complaint about an academic concern. A report from the Campus Conduct Hotline about a workplace-related concern is sent to the Office Human Resources.
Brown said that if an employee issue is reported through the Hotline and fact-finding can be accomplished without a named source, then the source can remain anonymous.
Krejci said he sees the Campus Conduct Hotline being used most often by people with complaints who don’t know how to get into Concordia’s system.
Krejci said he frequently receives calls and e-mails with questions about how to file a complaint or how to address an issue, and he thinks a lot of people simply don’t know how to get in the system.
“If they don’t go into the system, then they’re gone,” Krejci said.
Krejci, like Brown, also said that the Campus Conduct Hotline can be used by people who know how to file a complaint, but are afraid to do so. Krejci said people often forget about the power differential others may feel, and the Hotline is a way for people with less power to pursue their problem.
“Their voice can be heard,” Krejci said.
Motivations for the Campus Conduct Hotline
According to Brown, whistleblower policies became commonplace in corporate America after the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Those policies in corporate America are now extending to the not-for-profit world, as well. Brown said there will be more not-for-profit institutions implementing whistleblower policies as time goes on.
Brown said insurance companies and the Internal Revenue Service encourage whistleblower policies. Concordia is paying for the whistleblower policy indirectly through its insurance package, and Brown said it will save Concordia money on insurance premiums in the future.
Krejci said Concordia will never stray from its policies for complaints through the Hotline. The Hotline is simply a tool that allows people who don’t know how to or are afraid to address a concern to get into the system, he said, so Concordia can examine the issue according to standard policies and procedures.
“It’s one of those things where it’s the best practice,” he said. “It’s something we should have.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.