Students call for ethics code

by Beacon Staff • December 12, 2007

All 24 students said they wanted the Board of Trustees to approve the proposed policy, which would require Emerson employees to disclose potential conflicts of interest with the college's business partners.,Emerson should immediately adopt an ethics policy for its employees, said Emerson students who replied to a Beacon telephone survey.

All 24 students said they wanted the Board of Trustees to approve the proposed policy, which would require Emerson employees to disclose potential conflicts of interest with the college's business partners. Sixteen others declined to comment, many of whom said they did not know enough about the issue.

The financial aid office should have always had a system of accountability with clear parameters and restrictions, said Matt Nix, a TV/video major.

"The school not having an ethics policy for their aid officers is like a jewelry store not having a theft policy for their salespeople," the freshman said.

Emerson's Board of Trustees declined to vote on a draft proposal of the policy in its biannual October meeting, said David Rosen, Emerson's vice president of public affairs.

Freshman Kara Seigal said the extensive media coverage of Pinch's firing hurt the school's image.

"Why wouldn't they take immediate action?" the sound design major said of the deferred vote. "It doesn't make sense because don't they want this school to be credible? Why aren't they endorsing it?"

In November, Rosen said the ethics guidelines will resemble the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators' 12-point code of conduct, which states that officers must disclose any business or financial interests with student aid companies. The association, a student aid industry group to which Emerson belongs, developed the policy in 1999 and updated and expanded it in May 2007.

When asked about student concerns, Rosen said he had no new information to report since the October meeting, but said the board still hopes to adopt a new policy in March.

The policy would be a reaction to a report by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy detailing conflicts of interest in the student loan industry. The report revealed Emerson's former Dean of Enrollment, Daniel Pinch, had accepted more than $36,000 from Collegiate Funding Services, a student loan company Emerson endorsed on its Web site. Pinch was fired in June, days after the report was released.

Emerson's current director of financial aid, Michelle Smith, took a trip to Philadelphia that was paid for by Citizen's Bank while she was a member of the bank's Education Advisory Board, according to Kennedy's report. The report called such bank-funded excursions "lavish trips."

Sophomore Jackson Adams said he disagrees with the Board's decision and suggested stiffer penalties for ethics violations.

"People like to think that the people running this college shouldn't act like this, and that they should be trusted," the film major said. "I don't think it's going to happen again because of the scale of what happened, but this needs to be addressed now."

In November, Rosen said the board could vote on the policy sooner by telephone or mail-in vote. If not, a resolution may be voted on at the board's next meeting in March.

Senior Tianna Begonis said she feels an ethics policy should have been drafted sooner.

"When I heard about that in the last issue I was really upset," the media studies major said.

"When I was applying to Emerson, I didn't have any financial aid. They recommended that I go through Sallie Mae, and I was going through the process blindly. Now that I know these people had their own objectives, it really pisses me off. They need to find a way to fix this so it doesn't happen again."