Committee on Faculty Ethics
The Committee on Faculty Ethics receives and considers charges of violations of faculty ethics that involve the abuse of professional responsibilities as outlined in the principles of ethical behavior.
The Committee on Faculty Ethics (CFE) acts to promote knowledge of and adherence to the ethical principles of the faculty. (The Faculty Handbook identifies the Committee on Faculty Ethics in section 22.214.171.124, and the statement of principles of ethical behavior are available in section 2.23.1.) The CFE is not intended to be used to seek remedies such as monetary damages. The CFE will not act when legal, mediational, or other proceedings have been initiated or are ongoing by complainants that render the CFE's pursuit of an investigation redundant or disruptive. The CFE will not act on matters that have been or should be referred for investigation and action to an administrative officer, supervisor, or another appropriately charged committee in accordance with university policies and procedures. Complaints concerning personnel actions taken by a supervisor are to be handled by the applicable grievance procedure. If ethical issues arise from, or remain unresolved following such proceedings, the CFE will be available to receive or consider charges of violations of the principles in section 2.23.1 of the Faculty Handbook.
The CFE is composed of one faculty member from each college, one from the library, and one from the extension or outreach faculty with continued appointment. Committee members are appointed by the president of the Faculty Senate with the advice of the cabinet. All committee members must have tenure or continued appointment. The Faculty Senate president designates one committee member to serve as chair. Voting members of the CFE serve a two-year appointment and are limited to serving two consecutive terms. A quorum of the CFE consists of two-thirds of the appointed members.
Operating Procedures (revised and adopted by the Committee on Faculty Ethics, April 12, 1996)
The following steps constitute the planned procedure to be followed in all cases that are presented to the CFE for investigation or an alleged ethics violation by a Virginia Tech faculty member.
Case Procedure: A written incident report about the faculty member's alleged ethics violation can be submitted by anyone to the CFE chair. While the CFE is sensitive to the vulnerability and motivation of accusers, it will typically be necessary to reveal the identity of the accuser(s) to the accused. The CFE retains the right to withhold the identity of any party in an investigation; however, identity will be withheld only if, in the judgment of the CFE, anonymity will be in the best interest of all parties, and the integrity of the evidence-gathering process will not be compromised.
Step One: At a scheduled meeting, the CFE will examine all charges to determine if an ethical issue is at stake in light of the statement of professional ethics and responsibilities in the Faculty Handbook (section 2.0). Whether the charges address an ethical issue will be decided by a two-thirds majority of the CFE. The CFE will attempt to establish if legal, administrative, mediational, or other procedures are currently underway and concern issues that render the CFE's pursuit of an investigation redundant or disruptive. If any such procedures are in progress, or are known to have been initiated, the CFE will decline to investigate the charges until all other procedures are concluded. The CFE may further explore the charges with the accuser(s) and the accused, if appropriate, before making a decision about an investigation. A decision regarding the CFE's intent to investigate will be reached within 15 working days of the receipt of charges during spring and fall semesters, or within 15 working days of the beginning of the following semester if charges are filed during the summer or a university vacation.
Step Two: A letter informing both parties (and if appropriate, such individuals as the provost, deans, department heads, or the Faculty Senate president) of the CFE's decision to investigate, or not, will be sent within 10 working days of the committee decision. The letter will include a statement about the (in)appropriateness of the ethical issue(s) called into question, and the reason for the CFE's decision to (not) investigate the charge(s). If further inquiry is deemed appropriate, then the CFE will initiate an investigation. If not, then the file will be closed. If an investigation is to be initiated, the CFE chair will secure permission from the accuser(s) to reveal their name(s) to the accused (and others involved in the investigation) before any further steps can be taken. If permission is not obtained, the CFE will have to reconsider its decision in light of the need to conceal the accuser's identity. If the investigation is initiated, then the remaining eight steps will be followed unless the charge is withdrawn.
Step Three: A CFE meeting will be held within 15 working days of step two being completed, at which time the CFE will attempt to:
- Outline the scope of the investigation: The scope includes a determination of the time frame, issues and parties involved, and the possible range of recommendations to be reached. Subcommittees may be formed and their responsibilities will be determined, including the appointment of an evidence officer, if appropriate.
- Itemize the ethical issues in question: Each issue will be clarified as it pertains to the case.
- Identify all witnesses to be contacted: The accuser(s) and accused will be asked to provide a list of relevant witnesses.
- Identify all materials to be studied: The CFE will consider any material presented to it that will substantiate or refute the charges, or other evidence from any other pertinent source.
- Prepare interview questions: A list of questions will be prepared for each person to be interviewed.
Step Four: Step three will be repeated until the CFE is satisfied that all appropriate witnesses or sources of information have been identified. The CFE chair, or designated subcommittee chair, will then:
- Notify the accuser(s) and the accused of step three bulleted items one through four.
- Contact all witnesses to arrange their interviews within the time deadlines specified by the CFE and explain the interview process and the rights of the individuals involved.
Step Five: The CFE will establish the location and time of interviews, and will meet before the interviews to:
- Review and revise the questions.
- Establish a set of procedures for questioning all parties.
- Identify CFE members to keep a record of the interview.
- Arrange a seating plan, room layout, and sequence of events.
Step Six: Interviews will be conducted with as many CFE members as possible (but with a minimum of two). Every effort will be made to make the interview as relaxed and non-confrontational as possible. Every effort will be made to ensure that those accused of ethics violations will be given the opportunity to be confronted with, and to respond to, all evidence being used by the CFE in its investigation.
Step Seven: A post-interview CFE meeting will be held within 10 working days of the final interview. At this meeting the CFE will review all the gathered material, interview records, charges, explanations, perceptions, reasons, etc. It will then do one of the following:
- Reach a decision about the validity of the charge(s) by a simple majority of those members voting (absentee voting will be arranged by the CFE chair),
- Table the case pending further review, or
- Prepare a list of additional interviews and follow steps three through seven as often as required for the CFE to reach a majority decision about the disposition of the case.
Step Eight: Within five working days of the CFE reaching a decision, the CFE chair, or designated subcommittee chair, will draft a report of the CFE's findings and recommendations to be circulated among committee members for corrections and additions.
Step Nine: Within 10 working days of completing step eight, the CFE will ratify the amended report and recommendations. The report may include minority opinions, if any, as well as the majority decision.
Step Ten: Within five working days of completing step nine, a signed copy of the report and cover letter will be sent to the accuser(s) and accused and, if necessary, to other individuals such as the president, provost, deans, department heads, or the Faculty Senate president.
The CFE chair will retain the official record of the case in the CFE filing system. The case will then be closed.