or sally dear-healey, a lecturer at Binghamton University in
Ms. Dear-Healey, however, believes there was an ulterior motive.
New York, things began to go awry two years ago. That’s when
the adjunct professor of sociology says she came under pressure
from the university’s athletics department to ignore the repeat-
ed absences of several basketball players enrolled in her human
development course. “It was clear,” she says now, “that I was not
expected to hold my student athletes to the same standards as
my other students.”
Tensions mounted and then spilled over after the New York
Times ran a story last year on Binghamton’s basketball team,
It would get worse. Ms. Dear-Healey, who has lectured at Binghamton
for 12 years and is a PhD candidate there, received notice that her position
wouldn’t be renewed. Since then, she has been temporarily reinstated and
is teaching two courses in the fall term, but she has just been informed
that she won’t be teaching any courses in the spring. The university has
consistently maintained that its staffing changes were a result of budget
“This experience has damaged my reputation in ways that I am quite
sure are irreparable,” she says. When asked if she’d do it again she doesn’t
hesitate: “Absolutely,” she replies.
“The truth is the truth. How do I teach my students to be ethical and
stand up for what they believe in and to be good citizens if I don’t emulate
that same behaviour?”
As Ms. Dear-Healey can attest, whistleblowers are often faced with two
unpalatable options: expose a wrong and suffer the potential consequences
or turn a blind eye to the situation and allow it to continue unchecked. But
now, a growing number of universities, following the lead of corpora-
tions and other public institutions, are adopting safe-disclosure policies to
make the choice a bit easier. So far, just a few Canadian universities have
whistleblower policies, but the number is growing. Often, the policies are
14 / www.universityaffairs.ca / January 2011
intended to stamp out fraud and other financial crimes. But some schools
have adopted broader policies that cover all types of misbehaviours.
The trend has its roots in the infamous accounting scandals that
rocked Enron and WorldCom corporations early in this century. Those
events ushered in a new era of regulations to root out corporate fraud
and corruption and protect those who expose it. In the United States, the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires publicly traded companies to provide a hotline or a similar mechanism for employees to report concerns
about suspected financial irregularities and to protect whistleblowers
In Canada, some provincial governments followed suit. And, in the wake
of Canada’s widely publicized sponsorship scandal, the federal government added protections for public servants who disclose wrongdoing.
Since then, whistleblower policies and fraud hotlines have become a
standard good-governance practice at many organizations.
Universities are catching up. Harriet Lewis, university secretary and
general counsel at York University, says that colleges and universities are
under “tremendous pressure” from governments, auditors and boards to
adopt such policies. When it comes to organizations that spend taxpayer
dollars, the public’s demand for accountability has never been greater,
and universities are not exempted, she notes.
York, for its part, rejected a suggestion by a forensic auditor to implement a fraud hotline because it thought such a move might foster a
climate of mistrust on campus, says Ms. Lewis. Instead, York is drafting a
safe-disclosure policy that would encourage, and in some cases obligate,
faculty and staff members who know about financial wrongdoing to
report it. The proposed policy would cover financial irregularities such
as theft or fraud; York already has regulations to deal with academic
misconduct, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace behaviour.
McMaster University opted for a hotline. Anyone who wants to report
a suspected irregularity may do so anonymously by calling a toll-free
number or visiting a website operated by EthicsPoint, a U.S. firm. Once a
report has been filed, McMaster’s chief internal auditor, Jorma Larton, is
notified and he begins an investigation.