Tertiary institutions must embrace corporate ethics

17 Sep, 2013 - 00:09 0 Views

The Herald

Bradwell Mhonderwa Business Ethics
INSTITUTIONS of higher learning such as universities, polytechnics and teacher training colleges are fraught with cases of unethical practices perpetrated in one form or the other by authorities, lecturers and students themselves.
These cases include leaking of exam papers, paying bribes, corruption and inappropriate sexual relationships.
But are such behaviours reported so that perpetrators are dealt with decisively?

Do these institutions have adequate processes to ensure such inappropriate behaviour is dealt with effectively?
Don’t these misdemeanours negatively impact on student performance and the smooth running of these institutions?
When faced with crises of an ethical nature, institutions of higher learning are traditionally known to focus more on protecting institutional reputation and esteem deemed vital to the success of the institution at the expense of everything else.

Cases of misdemeanour are thus in most instances swept under the carpet to avoid the embarrassment of public ridicule and scorn.
On top of the list of unethical practices prevalent in institutions of higher learning are pervert sexual relationships which manifest in a number of forms.

We have heard of mutually agreed, but perverse sexual relationships pinned on the “sex for marks” deals between lecturers and unrestrained female students.

Yes, we know of cases of molestation of female students by drunken male students, and incidences of outright sexual harassment of innocent female students by male lecturers that are also rampant.

A number of researches on sexual harassment in these institutions agree that male lecturers are the chief culprits.
These pick their targets very carefully and are known to prowl more on timid, inhibited and clearly susceptible female students.
As one researcher concluded, female students in Zimbabwe’s institutions of higher learning feel that they sometimes get low marks or grades from some of their male lecturers after turning down their sexual advances or when sexual relationships get sour.

Indeed, there are sex-engineered grades in colleges and everyone in these institutions, including the college authorities cannot deny this.
In teacher training colleges, allegations of supervisors who coerce female students to give in to their sexual demands before they can assist them in their project work are common, with those who fail to comply being graded lowly, or getting a failing mark.

The downside of a forced sexual relationship includes fear, anger, depression, anxiety, and confusion on the part of the victim.
Incidents involving sexual harassment in colleges are under-reported, or not reported at all for fear of victimisation and retaliation.
“How can one report sexual harassment by a lecturer without the fear of being victimised when the head of department or even the college principal is also involved in the same wrong doing?” one would ask.

Many such students are thus convinced that there is no avenue for recourse when you report. But this is not to say authorities in these institutions have not been paying attention to these challenges.

Apparently, teachers and lecturers at some colleges have been suspended from duty for their alleged involvement in these acts of misconduct.

Similarly, many students who have been caught on the wrong side of the law have been punished. But, can we say the existing measures are adequate?

The challenge that goes with most of these cases is proving them “beyond reasonable doubt” as the courts would put it.
Sexual harassment accusations are privileged by secrecy and because of that, they are hard to prove or deny.

And, where there are attempts by authorities to act, when the fire finally burns out, and probably no fault is found on the part of the accused, the sad thing is that the accused remains “blackened by the smoke”.

Yet when authorities decide to ignore such complaints, abusers take advantage resulting in even more of such acts being perpetrated, thus shaming and condemning victims into silence. So what must really be done to help curb these malpractices?

In recent months, I have had several conversations with some college and university executives about the advantages of embedding formal ethics management processes in institutional operations and quite interesting thoughts came out of these discussions.

Indeed, to curb malpractices, institutions of higher learning must adopt comprehensive ethics management processes anchored on a clear corporate ethics plan which becomes part of the corporate strategy.

Institutions of higher learning need ethics management processes that encompass a well-researched institutional code of ethics with supportive infrastructure such as a whistle-blower facility and an ethics office.

Institutions of higher learning should appoint an ethics officer to run the ethics office co-ordinating and managing all ethical matters in the organisation.

Because institutions of higher learning now operate more like businesses, corporate ethics must become part of their organisational development processes.

Definitely it is when such processes are put in motion that students and everyone else in the organisation can confidently report incidents of unethical practices without fear of victimisation and retaliation and again it is through such interventions that reported cases of misdemeanour can be dealt with decisively.

Any attempt to sweep wrong things under the carpet hoping to create an “all is well here”, kind of impression is wrong and retrogressive.
Institutional reputation cannot be preserved at the expense of the welfare of students who are key stakeholders.

In fact, doing so is old fashioned, misplaced and parochial because it undermines the same institutional reputation you purport to protect and the right of female students to be heard and to co-habitat without fear, or a threat of abuse by lecturers and other male staff members.

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