Ethics policy for college faculty approved

by Beacon Staff • March 19, 2008

Almost nine months after former Dean of Enrollment Daniel Pinch was fired for questionable practices, Emerson's Board of Trustees has voted to adopt official conflict-of-interest guidelines for college student-aid employees and a separate outside-employment ethics policy.

At their second meeting of the school year last week, the Board ratified both policies, which would have created clear ethical guidelines against Pinch for receiving $36,000 from a loan-consolidation company the college was recommending to students on its Web site.

At the time of his dismissal, Emerson had no official conflict- of-interest policy for financial aid officers.

Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen confirmed the vote and said the college's new conflict-of-interest policy closely resembles 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 financial-aid companies.

Specific guidelines in the two-page outside-employment document include requiring staff members who wish to gain compensation from work outside the college to get signed permission from their direct supervisor and approval of that signature by Emerson's Human Resources department.

HR must assess whether the outside work would present a conflict with the staff member's job at the college.

The supervisor will not be able to approve the outside employment if the company does significant business, with proceeds exceeding $10,000 or more, with the college or if the work is with another college or university. The HR employee must also reject work that could hinder the staff members efficiency at their Emerson job.

The guidelines also state the college's logo may not be used on promotional materials for a staff member's other place of employment, a conflict cited in the report resulting in Pinch's dismissal.

In the nine-page conflict of interest policy, staff members are asked to remember that "even the appearance of misconduct or impropriety can cause severe damage to the college's reputation."

Employees are banned from "unauthorized" use of confidential information about Emerson, from using college resources and property for non-college events and from submitting the school's financial reports to the government that are anything less than completely accurate.

The Board had discussed ratifying a specific conflict of interest policy at their first meeting last fall, but decided to delay an official vote until the second meeting in the spring, said Rosen, who attended both meetings.

Despite the time gap, Rosen said the Board's basic outline for a policy has remained consistent.

"They always did the same [policy], tweaking various small things along the way," Rosen said. "People wanted to include specific language and examples."

The document also contains a list of which gifts, defined as any perk offered to a college employee or a member of his or her family in order for a company to obtain a business relationship with the school, are seen as inappropriate.

Among acceptable gift items are promotional materials, perishable products like food and flowers and "social or ceremonial gifts" where it would be "awkward or impolite to decline."

The meeting, at which both policies were approved, began with a three-hour closed executive session followed by a ninety minute public meeting open to Emerson faculty, Rosen said.

The Board of Trustees currently has 30 members including the college's president Jacqueline Liebergott and television mavens Max Mutchnik and Kevin Bright of 'Will Grace' and 'Friends' fame, respectively.

Rosen said the Board spent "about 15, 20 minutes" finalizing the policy prior to voting on it.

Before the vote, the Board discussed a suggestion that the policy incorporate sixteen specific examples of what officers were allowed and not allowed to do.

Among those agreed upon as "don'ts" were a faculty member declaring support for a political candidate on college stationary, accepting Red Sox tickets from a parent whose child has applied to Emerson and choosing to supply a college office with $11,000 worth of paper products while owning stock in Staples.

"They had talked about it before so this meeting just required a report on small revisions," Rosen said. "They were made and they were accepted."