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Ethics Need Enforcing

Two items in the flow of Pennsylvania news bear on the need to keep promoting ethics and fairness standards – they don't enforce themselves. 

In the first example, from Philly.com, an ethics telephone hotline that Pennsylvania State University created in 2005 didn't get a lot of calls before the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal broke in 2011. But the hotline's call volume started increasing last year after former FBI Director Louis Freeh recommended in his report on the Sandusky scandal that it be heavily publicized. 

Susan Snyder, The Philadelphia Inquirer's education reporter, advises that "the university posted links to the hotline on its home page, ran stories about it, posted placards around campus and mailed postcards to employees." And folks at Penn State (mostly, it appears, faculty and staff) got the word. "In 2011," Ms. Snyder notes, "there were 40 calls (7 inquiry only): in 2012, 159 calls (44 inquiry only) and as of Aug. 31 this year, 130 calls (29 inquiry only)."

Daniel Heist, Penn State's director of internal audit and the source of The Inquirer's story, acknowledged that "As people become more aware of it (the hotline), they use it and they tell other people about it." Thus, the promotional value of getting the word around Happy Valley about ethics and values.

Similarly, in Pittsburgh The Post Gazette wonders editorially how the city's ethics hearing board is to be taken seriously with three vacancies among its five members and only an hour's worth of "annual" ethics training given to given city employees in the past three years.

So now, the paper notes, "Just when city officials appear to be ethics-challenged – the former police chief will plead guilty to a five-count indictment next month, a federal grand jury is grilling people associated with the mayor's office – Pittsburgh's ethics hearing board is dormant, if not defunct. Could there be a connection?..."

Yes, there could. If they're not in fashion to be followed, ethical standards aren't self-enforcing. That's reality in a busy, pressurized world. It's thereby prudent for officlais and managers to recognize the frailty of ethical standards and to ensure their enforcement.