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Penn State increases transparency into misconduct reports. Here’s what the data say.

Bias and human resources issues were the most common misconduct reports Penn State received in January and February 2024. The data offer the first public look into the ethics office in years.

  • Wyatt Massey/SpotlightPA
The Office of Ethics and Compliance is housed in Rider Building, in downtown State College.

 Georgianna Sutherland / For Spotlight PA

The Office of Ethics and Compliance is housed in Rider Building, in downtown State College.

This story first appeared in Talk of the Town, a weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau featuring the most important news and happenings in north-central Pennsylvania. 

For the first time in six years, Penn State has made internal data on misconduct complaints publicly accessible, fulfilling a commitment by the university to improve the transparency of its Office of Ethics and Compliance.

Data for the first two months of 2024 were presented to the Penn State Board of Trustees’ legal and compliance committee at their public meeting in March. Before that, these kind of data had been shared with trustees in private meetings, a university spokesperson previously told Spotlight PA.

In January and February, the Penn State ethics hotline received 117 reports, compared to 64 complaints during the same period in 2023, according to data shared by Amber Grove, the university’s new chief ethics and compliance officer.

Grove told Spotlight PA the increase in hotline reports stemmed from efforts to redesign the reporting process and raise awareness about available resources, and did not necessarily reflect an increase in alleged misconduct at the university.

According to data available on the office’s website, the university’s compliance units received 344 reports of alleged misconduct, 259 of which were resolved. Nearly half of the reports related to bias or human resources issues. More than 70% of the total complaints related to the University Park campus.

Those data, according to Penn State, come from reports received through the ethics hotline, as well as information collected from other departments — including Labor and Employment Relations, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, Office of the Vice President for Education Equity, and the Office of Ethics and Compliance.

But it’s not complete.

“It’s important to note that this data does not encompass all units, particularly those within Student Affairs, and may not include every investigation or report due to the diverse range of issues addressed and ongoing enhancements to reporting systems,” the university’s website says.

The ethics officer told Spotlight PA she expects to release more data at the legal committee’s April and June meetings. Future reports will include relevant compliance information from the student affairs division, she said.

Penn State created the Office of Ethics and Compliance in 2013 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The unit oversees universitywide ethics training and manages the hotline for reporting misconduct.

Last year, Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times published an investigation into Penn State’s ethics office and misconduct reporting infrastructure. The newsrooms found rampant distrust, fear of retaliation for reporting potential wrongdoing, reports of alleged retaliation by the former chief ethics officer, and limited insight into how the ethics office functions.

The investigation also found that Penn State’s network of compliance offices is largely decentralized and covers various subjects and geographic areas without following a standardized procedure.

Grove told Spotlight PA that the ethics office regularly meets with other compliance units, and said some of them have started using the same case management system.

President Neeli Bendapudi aims for Penn State to eventually track reports of alleged misconduct across all offices and campuses, an effort that is underway but doesn’t have an established timeline.


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