- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

George Washington University will discontinue its anonymous-complaint line and work with the Faculty Senate to reach a compromise on the school's "compliance program," said university President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
"One of my vice presidents got a little carried away," said Mr. Trachtenberg, referring to Louis Katz, who implemented the "compliance line," which North Carolina-based Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations Inc. operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The compliance program is intended to protect the university from legal liability concerning faculty or student conduct.
"You can't micromanage everyone, but I take full responsibility for it," Mr. Trachtenberg said.
Members of the Faculty Senate, which operates under shared governance with the administration at GW, will meet with members of the administration to hammer out an agreement.
Mr. Trachtenberg said he hopes a new line, operated on GW's campus and only during regular school hours, will be in place by the time the spring semester lets out on May 19.
The changes in the school's compliance program come even as a nonprofit watchdog organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has begun an investigation into the university's program.
The Washington Times first reported on April 19 about GW's compliance line.
But the program has quickly come under attack from faculty, the student newspaper and FIRE. In an April 25 letter to the university, FIRE promised to "fight a policy of anonymous accusation with our own strategy based on the principle that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant,' and to use all of our media and legal resources to this end."
The Faculty Senate was concerned that an anonymous-complaint line, operated by an outside investigation firm, threatened academic freedom and opened the door to character assassination.
GW faculty were also upset that they were not consulted about the compliance program. They were informed about the program and the phone line in February through glossy brochures mailed to them at home.
The Faculty Senate twice voted unanimously to suspend the phone line. The student newspaper, the Hatchet, condemned the compliance line, declaring that it promoted "a community of distrust" and created problems that only compounded one another.
Meanwhile, FIRE, an organization that advocates free speech and other liberties on college campuses, said in a letter obtained by The Washington Times, "The threat that this hot line poses to fundamental fairness, justice, and common decency at GWU, and its extraordinary potential for abuse by faculty and administrators, should have been obvious."
The letter went on to say that "Anonymous accusations and investigations have always been the hallmark of totalitarian societies and are unworthy of a great liberal arts university."
Thor L. Halvorssen, FIRE's executive director, said, "The school would be wise to drop this as soon as possible."
University law professor John Banzhaf, an outspoken critic of the compliance program, said he is pleased the measures are being scrapped but is still concerned. He said he is not convinced that the university must add any compliance measures.
The university has yet to prove that the existing mechanisms against unethical behavior faculty committees on behavioral issues and a student-faculty committee that hears student complaints are insufficient, he said.
But Mr. Trachtenberg said the school's lawyers advised them that they had to have new compliance mechanisms.
This is the second time FIRE has investigated GW policy. A year ago, FIRE sent a letter to the university condemning the school's proposed sexual harassment policy, which would have denied those accused of offenses important rights, such as knowing the identity of the accuser or the specific charges. The policy was never put into effect.
FIRE, which handles from 600 to 1,000 cases every year, operates methodically and systematically in investigating each case, Mr. Halvorssen said.
He said there is a national trend among universities to be more interested in protecting the institution than defending due process for people on their campuses.
"Given a choice between what is right and what will prevent legal liability, [universities] will choose the latter," he said.
Pinkerton also operates hot lines for the University of California, the University of Kentucky, the University of Connecticut, the University of North Carolina and the University of New Mexico, a spokeswoman for the company said.

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