On 7 December, Erasmus University Rotterdam will launch its new Code of Integrity. But why is integrity so important? An interview with Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord and Vice-President Ellen van Schoten about the new Code of Integrity as a living document, the difference with the past and what are the important topics when it comes to this theme.
Why is integrity important to all of us?
Ellen van Schoten (EvS): Integrity is the basis of our actions. Especially since we, as EUR, want to create a positive social impact and are increasingly working together, this is important. Inside and outside our university, it is important that our values are visible and that we treat each other with respect.
Annelien Bredenoord (AB): Students also expect more from their university. Think for instance about the protection of their data, but also about newer themes such as gender-neutral language and attention to diversity and inclusion. As a research and educational institution, we see this as an important responsibility and we have already made great strides. My predecessor, Frank van der Duijn Schouten, also described this during the handover of the rectorate: a few decades ago, there was little or no attention to integrity in the academic world, but fortunately there is now.
EvS: Things that we used to consider 'normal' are no longer so. You see this in many areas and in all kinds of professional groups and the whole of society. That means it is crucial to talk about it. We want a culture that makes it possible to share and discuss open dilemmas.
The Code of Integrity is not a law that you enforce, but a living document.
What is this Code of Integrity about?
AB: You can find here what we stand for as Erasmus University Rotterdam and what we may expect from each other within the community. Our mission, core responsibilities and core values are stated, and then how we treat each other: our guiding principles of trust, respect, cooperation and transparency.
EvS: The integrity themes that are important for everyone who works and studies with us are also addressed. For example, preventing conflicts of interest due to personal relationships or gifts, careful use of our ICT facilities to prevent hacking and data leaks and reporting undesirable behaviour.
How should we deal with such a document?
EvS: The Code of Integrity is not a law that you enforce, but a living document. Trust comes on foot and goes on horseback and it is also important that we are aware of those things that can (even if only in appearance) affect our integrity.
AB: In some cases it is very clear when something lacks integrity. But in the grey areas integrity is also in the eye of the beholder: it requires a normative assessment where not everyone would draw the same line. Discussing this with each other, having the right procedures in place: I think this is the essence of having a living integrity code. A well-known saying is 'there is no such thing as a little integrity'. I find that very misleading: as if it is always black and white and perfectly clear. You can make a consideration in good faith that others criticise. And it also depends on things like time, culture and context.
Why is it important that this new Integrity Code is in place now?
EvS: Many steps have been taken in the area of integrity in recent years, such as the appointment of confidential advisors, new procurement policy and the development of the Dilemma Game App (nominated by the Council of Europe as Best Practice for promoting scientific integrity) to practice with issues related to scientific integrity. This Code of Integrity gives an overview of the most important regulations and contact persons for these subjects and describes how they are interrelated.
Can you give an example of an important issue in this code?
AB: One of the topics of the Code of Integrity is how we deal with mutual relationships, something that concerns everyone within the university. The relationship between employee and student or supervisor and subordinate is asymmetrical by definition and it is always important to be aware of this hierarchical relationship and its possible consequences.
What happens if there is an integrity issue?
AB: In the first place, it is important to enter into a dialogue with each other if you think or see that something is not right. If this dialogue does not have the desired effect, you can discuss it with your manager and/or ask for help and advice from one of the contact persons, such as the confidential counsellors of the schools and services and the Ombuds Officer.
EvS: The EUR also has various regulations that describe the procedure for reporting misconduct, for example (e.g. the Complaints Procedure for Undesirable Behaviour and the EUR Complaints Procedure for Scientific Integrity), in which both sides are heard.
Having a conversation about this, having the right procedures in place: I think that is the essence of having a living code of integrity.
How is the Code of Integrity implemented?
EvS: This year, as a university, we are a partner of the national Integrity Week. During this week, we pay extra attention to the subject at various moments. All important actors will be informed and sessions will be organised to discuss acting with integrity. In addition, a working group is working on the structural embedding of this code, for example at the start of employment, leadership and by offering e-learnings.
AB: The distribution of the Integrity Code among students is specifically something we pay attention to. The Department of Education & Student Affairs is already involved in this process, as well as student members of the University Council. In this way, we hope that really everyone is aware of it.