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A man loading a truck.

Hotline helps U employees do the right thing

By Gayla Marty

Brief, May 31, 2006

Janet Wang* pulled into the campus parking lot on her way back to the office. It was mid afternoon, so she parked in the shade next to a University van.

It wasn't until she was half way into the office that she realized she'd seen a University employee unloading something--electrical supplies?--into a pickup parked on the other side of the van. By the time she got back to her desk, she forgot about it.

But a few weeks later, she remembered. Leaving the office for an off-campus meeting, Wang noticed the same van and the same person transferring something to the pickup.

The next morning, Wang found the Ureport Web site and made a report. She got a report number so she could call with more information. Later she was able to check back to find out what happened.

Taking responsibility

Most concerns can be raised and solved successfully at the local level. To find out more about reporting options, including Ureport, see the Office of Institutional Compliance Web site.

At a time when expectations of accountability are rising for corporations as well as public institutions, Ureport is a way for University of Minnesota employees to do the right thing as simply as possible. The service is not really new--the U has long provided several lines for people to call with problems. But Ureport consolidated lines, brought processes up to date, and made it easier to use with online as well as phone access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The systemwide service introduced last fall also allows users to remain anonymous and to follow up on reports.

"I like the idea that we are doing our job to be good stewards of University resources," says Tom Schumacher, director of the Office of Institutional Compliance. "We're not asking people to do all the work. Just let us know, and we'll follow up."

Faculty and staff can use Ureport to make an anonymous report, on the Web or by phone, of activity they think might be violating law or policy. The University contracts with an independent company, EthicsPoint, which is used by hundreds of companies and universities for similar confidential support.

"The more we commit ourselves to becoming an even better research institution, the more important stewardship becomes."

Since Ureport went live last November, about 80 reports have been made from all the U campuses. One staff member was tired of watching a coworker shop online for hours at work. Another reported that someone seemed to be living in a U building basement.

In the case Wang observed, the report was referred to the local police. As it turned out, one of the employee's jobs was to pick up materials from a supplier a half-hour away--where the employee also ordered materials for personal projects. Picking up both orders in a single trip saved time and fuel. The supervisor was aware of the practice, and the employee had separate receipts for each trip, which were recorded in a log book.

A typical report might contain a misperception of events, a culture of not paying enough attention, or some combination.

"As an employer of 30,000 bodies, we have a lot of subcultures," says Schumacher about the U. "For example, we Minnesotans have a culture that doesn't like talking about problems. That makes it hard to raise uncomfortable issues."

Schumacher stresses that most concerns can be raised and solved successfully at the local level--in the workplace and department, through ordinary supervisory channels. Usually, the local unit is most familiar with the issues and people and best equipped to solve the problem or raise a concern to a higher level. But sometimes, because of the subject matter or due to work or personal relationships, concerns may be best raised through a specialized central office.

Reasons to use Ureport might include situations in which there's a power differential between the people involved, when the person is not comfortable, when the issue has been raised but nothing was effective, or when it's just not practical.

"How much effort should a person put in if it's not their issue?" Schumacher asks. Should something be ignored just because it's too much work to ask someone about it and the person thinks it's not their business, anyway?

As the University commits itself to improvement, accountability becomes more important, says Schumacher.

"The more innovative you are, the more you need to be sure you are following the rules," he says. "The more we commit ourselves to becoming an even better research institution, the more important stewardship becomes. People who raise concerns should be valued for providing an important service to everyone."

This story was updated July 12, 2006.