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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fostering a culture of integrity

Kim Strom-Gottfried (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Kim Strom-Gottfried. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

In the seven months since Chancellor Carol L. Folt appointed Kim Strom-Gottfried to serve as director of the Office of Ethics Education and Policy Management, she has met with faculty, staff and students in as many departments and schools as she could.

For Strom-Gottfried, those visits were important because she wants to build awareness across campus about the new office and her responsibilities as its director. At the same time, she said, she wants to spread the message that ethics – a commitment to doing the right thing – is everybody’s business.

In her new role, Strom-Gottfried will be responsible for strengthening Carolina’s commitment to fostering a culture of integrity, accountability and ethical conduct. This includes expanding the University’s ethics awareness, education and support programs, along with restructuring and improving the way the University creates, reviews and communicates its policies.

She remains the Smith P. Theimann Jr. Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Professional Practice in the School of Social Work.

It is no coincidence, Strom-Gottfried said, that the term “ethics” appears in the titles of her new job and the old one she continues to do on a part-time basis.

Her role, a Cabinet-level position reporting to the chancellor, was created at the recommendation of two working groups: ethics and integrity and policy and procedure. Moving both ethics and policy into the same office ensures they are coordinated in mission and strategy.

Expanding ethical awareness

One part of her role focuses on ethics education. At the same time, she is charged with improving ethics reporting systems and bolstering the University’s culture of ethical behavior.

“Carolina wants to continue fostering an environment where daily acts of integrity are not only encouraged, but woven into the fabric of Carolina’s culture,” Strom-Gottfried said.

The University uses EthicsPoint, a comprehensive and confidential Internet and telephone-based reporting tool that helps the University and its employees work together to address fraud, abuse, misconduct or other violations in the workplace, all while cultivating a positive work environment. (Employees may make reports online at ethicsandintegrity.unc.edu/report-a-concern/ or by calling 866-294-8688.)

Strom-Gottfried said the office will increase the visibility of EthicsPoint as an anonymous reporting service and improve the versatility of the software by adding more reporting categories to reports regularly received by the University.

In addition, she will help to identify and support ethics standard bearers and initiatives, while promoting and publicizing the University’s integrity message.

Unifying University policies

Strom-Gottfried will also oversee, manage and unify University-wide policies and policy structures. There are now more than 1,600 University policies – more than it is possible for any one person to know or find.

The large number of policies is necessary, she said, because Carolina is a big, multi-faceted research organization.

Fewer than half of those policies are linked to the main policy website – a shortcoming that needs fixing, Strom-Gottfried said. Toward that end, the University hired Atinuke “Tinu” Diver to serve as the assistant director of the office to focus on the task of simplifying and unifying University policies.

Decentralized policies can be inconsistent, even contradictory, which can lead to greater risk of noncompliance, Strom-Gottfried said. To address this issue, the office will be restructuring and improving the way the University creates, reviews and communicates its policies.

Todd Nicolet, who served as the interim director of the office before Strom-Gottfried was appointed, identified policy liaisons and formalized a Policy Review Committee that will review and consolidate University polices to form a more current, cohesive, comprehensible, accurate and accessible policy structure and repository.

Strom-Gottfried said the office will also communicate new policies to faculty, staff and students so that they know what they are and why they are needed.

These changes will help employees know the right thing to do in any given situation, she added.

“People want to do the right thing, and the challenge is really figuring out how to create cultures where that impulse is encouraged, supported and honored,” she said.

Strom-Gottfried said it is also important for people to understand that ethics and policies are related, but different.

“Policies are like the line on the floor that, if you cross it, you know you’ve done something wrong,” Strom-Gottfried said. “Ethics are the unofficial policies that we carry around within ourselves. They are not written down. There is nothing official about them. But taken together, the ethics you try to uphold serve as that inner compass that guides you every day toward doing what you think is right.”

A perfect fit

Strom-Gottfried’s scholarly work focused on ethics, education and social work meshed with the responsibilities she would assume in the new position: “Her skills and experience are an excellent match for this role,” Folt said when she announced Strom-Gottfried’s appointment.

From 2008 to 2016, Strom-Gottfried served as director of the Academic Leadership Program for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. That job allowed her to get to know a wide range of faculty members, she said.

Strom-Gottfried said the work of developing campus leaders and creating an ethical culture may be separate assignments, but she sees them as part of the same continuum.

“That’s because you can’t be a leader unless you have the moral courage to do the right thing,” Strom-Gottfried said. “And leaders who have moral courage help to create a culture that supports it within the organization.”

Strom-Gottfried said the opportunity to serve the University doing this vital work came at a perfect time in her career.

“I’ve spent my entire academic and professional career studying the intersection of ethics and the workplace. The continuing question is how to put those ethics into action for the betterment of our lives, our organizations and the communities in which we live,” Strom-Gottfried said. “I want to give back to the University that has given me so much by ensuring it can succeed in the future.”