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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Online briefing aims to ensure ‘ethical conduct’ of university employees

In light of recent hate crimes that have swept UC campuses, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) has rolled out a program intended to help employees maintain a healthy work environment.

The compliance briefing, titled “UC Ethical Values and Conduct,” was officially introduced online on Mar. 3 through the Office of Ethics, Compliance and Audit Services (ECAS), a subdivision of UCOP.

The newly revised program will be implemented systemwide, although the individual campuses are allowed some leeway in determining such provisions as whether or not undergraduate student employees will be required to take the survey or what the consequences for non-compliance will be.

According to Robert Loessberg-Zahl, assistant executive vice chancellor, an initial online briefing was introduced to the UC system in 2006. However, due to complaints of length and irrelevance to employees’ actual workplace needs, the plan was scrapped and ECAS set out to develop a more relatable program. The new program incorporated the consultation of staff, faculty and students from the different campuses.

“The discussion at the time revolved around concerns [about] needing something that could hit hard and really resonate [with employees],” Loessberg-Zahl said. “[The regents] were looking for something short enough to hold [participants’] attention, and realistic enough that people could identify with the scenarios.”

The new online briefing takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete, less than half as long as its hour-long predecessor. The deadline to complete the online compliance briefing is Dec. 31, 2010 and it will need to be taken annually by continuing university employees.

According to Loessberg-Zahl, at UC Davis, anyone employed by the University will be required to take the briefing, including the assistant executive vice chancellor himself, Chancellor Linda Katehi, the deans of each of the schools, graduate student and undergraduate student employees.

Frank Yuan, a senior resident advisor for the Segundo dorms, agreed to the necessity of the training, but expressed worry about employees being able to develop a sense of why the training is important.

“It takes training to recognize situations [that are] toxic to the workplace atmosphere,” Yuan said. “But the applicability doesn’t come until later. The realization of when you need that information [doesn’t arrive until] you actually find yourself in one of those situations that you were trained to deal with.”

Yuan, a senior international relations and history double major, has been employed through Student Housing for three years now. Throughout his tenure as a university employee, Yuan has been required to annually take a spring quarter class, a two-week intensive training course in the summer and a fall quarter class. The classes are all designed to teach resident advisors (RAs) about university standards surrounding ethics, diversity, sexual harassment and appropriate workplace behavior.

But, Yuan insists that the new online compliance briefing is applicable to all levels of university employment – not just RAs.

“It’s a good step to mandate [this training] because, as employees, we are also university representatives,” he said. “If we seek to understand and share what we learn [from the briefing], then we can create an atmosphere more conducive to healthy education and a healthy workplace.”

However, some remained skeptical of the program’s effectiveness.

Christine Lan, a receptionist assistant at the Office of the Dean of the College of Letters and Science, voiced concern about the implementation of the briefing.

“[Students] will find it hard to consider a virtual training realistic or applicable,” Lan said. “They need to be shown what shouldn’t be happening in a work environment and [how to handle] incidents that do occur with specific and practical examples.”

Yet Lan, an environmental policy analysis and planning major, admitted that if the university can develop a realistic training, then it would provide benefits to employees, especially less experienced individuals who haven’t worked before.

Loessberg-Zahl agreed, adding that even experienced employees can forget the fundamental standards of conduct in the workplace and, as such, the briefing reminds them to consciously apply those standards to their daily work.

“I believe most people are ethical,” he said. “The vast majority of our employees perform their work with integrity. All this [briefing] does is make it clear that the university has expectations of its employees beyond what they’re asked to do every day.”

KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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