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University Codes of Conduct Should Be Concise and Precise

University Codes of Conduct Should Be Concise and Precise

The HSE University International Advisory Committee met online on May 19 to discuss the proposed Codes of Conduct for faculty and students, as well as assess the university’s transition to online learning.

As Professor Vadim Radaev, HSE University First Vice Rector, explained, the drafts of the Codes of Conduct were prepared by faculty members and members of the student community, respectively. A Code of Conduct for administrative staff is currently being developed. The Faculty Code of Conduct builds upon the Statement of Values created in 2013. Yet, it is not a set of administrative norms. Since there is no universally accepted standard for such codes, HSE University used a variety of codes of international universities as examples.

The Code of Conduct for faculty members includes provisions regarding academic integrity and commitment; academic freedom; personal integrity and responsibility; honesty and the prevention of misconduct (including academic fraud); mutual respect and collaboration; equality and non-discrimination; and the prevention of violence and sexual harassment. ‘We care about HSE University’s reputation and development, as well as the reputation of its faculty and staff members,’ said Vadim Radaev.

© HSE University

The Student Code of Conduct was presented by one of its authors, Ekaterina Vaseneva, Head of the Student Council of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs. While the need for a code of conduct was discussed in 2017, it was only this year that a consolidated document was finally produced by the student community in close cooperation with HSE University faculty members, alumni, and administrators. ‘The Code encapsulates the norms outlined in the HSE University Statement of Values. It also shows what we expect from the university by introducing mutual respect and mutual responsibility. We are ready to set our educational trajectory. We also value transparency in conflict resolution and do not accept any form of academic dishonesty. We wish to maintain an atmosphere of trust and support at the university,’ said Ekaterina Vaseneva.

Commenting on both drafts, Professor Eric Maskin, Chair of the International Advisory Committee, Nobel laureate in Economics, and Adams University Professor at Harvard University, noted that both codes contain a lot of good ideas. However, in his view, the provision that the members of the community have the right of free expression as long as it does not damage the university reputation may not be specific enough and needs to be more precise.

Imagine a member of the faculty who in the course of his research came up with some controversial findings. These findings could get attention in the press and the university might be criticised for allowing this sort of research. I don’t think that this is the type of speech that should be restricted.

Similarly, the provision on not allowing actions and expressions that may be deemed offensive seems too broad and needs to be made more precise. ‘In the course of my research I might come up with findings which suggest that a particular ethnic group is conducting practices that might be harmful to their health. People in that ethnic group might feel offended by my findings,’ Professor Maskin added.

Committee members also made some other suggestions. Philip G. Altbach, the Founding Director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, and Ellen Hazelkorn, Director of the Higher Education Policy Research Unit at the Technological University Dublin, recommended making both codes shorter and more concise. Professor Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University) suggested including a statement that HSE University is part of the global community of scholars and makes its contribution as equals in a wider endeavour.

Some participants supported Professor Maskin’s suggestion about making the wording of some parts of the code more precise. In particular, Professor Daniel Treisman (University of California, Los Angeles) observed that ‘it might make sense to prescribe ‘deliberate action’ rather than things that ‘may be deemed’ offensive’. He also urged to include whistleblower protection provisions in the codes.

HSE University Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov assured committee members that all their comments will be taken into consideration and that the subsequent drafts of the codes will be submitted to the committee.

He also explained where the need for norms regulating statements made by HSE community members stems from. HSE University scholars are independent researchers and they may criticize certain processes happening in Russia and thus enter into conflict with the interests of others.

Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE University Rector

Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE University Rector

In order to maintain freedom and professional independence, which will enable the University to continue to exist, we need to stay within a certain framework and be very mindful of how we do this.

In response to Professor Treisman's suggestion of providing a clause guaranteeing protections for whistleblowers in the event of disagreements with university leadership, Yaroslav Kuzminov reminded participants that these protections are stipulated in the administrative regulations. However, whistleblower complaints should be communicated within the university structure. ‘If colleagues begin a struggle for something at the university by sending letters to newspaper editors, and we only find out about it when reading the paper, then we consider this to be conduct that is not made in good conscience, he said. ‘In this case, however, we do not punish colleagues.’ The HSE Rector agreed with the fact that not simply offensive, but ‘deliberately offensive’ actions deserve reprimand; otherwise people can take offense at the behaviour of anyone who says something that contradicts their views.

‘A code of conduct is a code of prescribed behaviour. We are determining what we consider to be appropriate and inappropriate. Violations of these norms will not incur punishment, but rather the judgement of one’s colleagues,’ concluded Yaroslav Kuzminov.

In the second part of the committee meeting, the head of the HSE Institute of Education, Isak Froumin, presented main steps and policies the university has implemented during the pandemic. He noted that HSE University was able to quickly transition to distance learning, postponing only 3% of courses until later semesters. Final exam sessions were also moved online, as well as administrative processes.

HSE University has become the main platform of professional expertise on online teaching and learning for the Russian Ministry of Higher Education and Science. The University actively helps other Russian and CIS universities in their transition to distance learning by providing free access to HSE online courses hosted on different educational platforms. Professor Froumin acknowledged, however, that the introduction of online learning has brought an additional financial burden for the university.

Isak Froumin, Head of the HSE Institute of Education

Isak Froumin, Head of the HSE Institute of Education

We were lucky to be able to learn from other universities that had also faced similar challenges slightly earlier. One of the most important things was to encourage students to become digital assistants for their professors – to help them master online teaching instruments.

Professor Froumin also talked about the opportunities for development that the situation has presented. ‘We have seen that we can successfully work with other campuses and universities from other countries. We plan to introduce general courses for all campuses, as well as create new online courses for Russian and international MOOC platforms and develop different conference formats, including those that are fully online, mixed, and so on,’ he explained. In addition, HSE University plans to develop its own proctoring programme.

‘The situation with the pandemic and the reactions to it have been very similar all over the world,’ observed Francisco Marmolejo, Education Advisor at the Qatar Foundation. ‘It is not clear what is going to happen, so it is great to hear that HSE University is considering not just short-term solutions.’

Philip Altbach was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of HSE students to online learning, while in the US most students are dissatisfied with emergency online courses. [A recent HSE survey showed that 72% of HSE students are satisfied with how the university moved to distance education. Moreover, 40% prefer distance learning to traditional instruction.] Daneil Treisman recommended analyzing not only the students’ opinions of online learning but also their learning results.

Concluding the meeting, HSE Vice Rector Ivan Prostakov expressed hope that in 2021 the Committee members would be able to gather in Moscow and discuss online education in person.

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