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Penn State publicizes misconduct reporting data

Plus: This interactive can help you determine which Pa. attorney general candidate is right for you

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

April 11, 2024
👋 Hey Union County readers! The Spotlight PA State College team will be in Lewisburg on April 25! Drop by Amami Kitchen & Espresso Bar (103 S. 6th St.) between 9 a.m. and noon to chat with us about what local issues are important to you. Coffee is our treat!
Inside this edition: Penn State releases public misconduct reporting data, the challenges of stormwater fees, and an interactive tool to help you figure out which Pa. attorney general is right for you.
For the first time in six years, Penn State has made internal data on misconduct complaints publicly accessible, fulfilling a commitment by the university to improve the transparency of its Office of Ethics and Compliance.

Data for the first two months of 2024 were presented to the Penn State Board of Trustees’ legal and compliance committee at their public meeting in March. Before that, these kind of data had been shared with trustees in private meetings, a university spokesperson previously told Spotlight PA.

In January and February, the Penn State ethics hotline received 117 reports, compared to 64 complaints during the same period in 2023, according to data shared by Amber Grove, the university’s new chief ethics and compliance officer.

Grove told Spotlight PA the increase in hotline reports stemmed from efforts to redesign the reporting process and raise awareness about available resources, and did not necessarily reflect an increase in alleged misconduct at the university.

According to data available on the office’s website, the university’s compliance units received 344 reports of alleged misconduct, 259 of which were resolved. Nearly half of the reports related to bias or human resources issues. More than 70% of the total complaints related to the University Park campus.

Those data, according to Penn State, come from reports received through the ethics hotline, as well as information collected from other departments — including Labor and Employment Relations, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, Office of the Vice President for Education Equity, and the Office of Ethics and Compliance. 

But it’s not complete. 

“It’s important to note that this data does not encompass all units, particularly those within Student Affairs, and may not include every investigation or report due to the diverse range of issues addressed and ongoing enhancements to reporting systems,” the university’s website says. 

The ethics officer told Spotlight PA she expects to release more data at the legal committee’s April and June meetings. Future reports will include relevant compliance information from the student affairs division, she said.

Penn State created the Office of Ethics and Compliance in 2013 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The unit oversees universitywide ethics training and manages the hotline for reporting misconduct.

Last year, Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times published an investigation into Penn State’s ethics office and misconduct reporting infrastructure. The newsrooms found rampant distrust, fear of retaliation for reporting potential wrongdoing, reports of alleged retaliation by the former chief ethics officer, and limited insight into how the ethics office functions.

The investigation also found that Penn State’s network of compliance offices is largely decentralized and covers various subjects and geographic areas without following a standardized procedure.

Grove told Spotlight PA that the ethics office regularly meets with other compliance units, and said some of them have started using the same case management system.

President Neeli Bendapudi aims for Penn State to eventually track reports of alleged misconduct across all offices and campuses, an effort that is underway but doesn’t have an established timeline.

Wyatt Massey, Penn State investigative reporter
A chart of the most common reports of misconduct at Penn State in January and February 2024
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» ROW RACES: Join us TONIGHT from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live guide to Pa.’s candidates for attorney general, auditor general, and treasurer and how their terms would impact you. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
The solar eclipse photographed from Keating Summit, Potter County, by Brian Reid of Eventide Light Photography.

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» April 12-14: Hamilton-Gibson Women’s Project presents WOMEN, A Collection of Original Work in Wellsboro, Tioga County.

» April 12-14: Penn State’s Blue-White Weekend includes the annual football scrimmage, a 5K run, and many more events in State College, Centre County.

» April 13: See documentary Summer of Soul at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford in McKean County. 

» April 13: Penn State Thespians present Pinkalicious at Schlow Centre Region Library in Centre County.

» April 13: Lend a hand in cleaning up the riverbank of the Little Juniata in Huntingdon County.

» April 16: Repasz Band performs its spring concert at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, Lycoming County.
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