Organisation - December 3, 2019

Tackling integrity

Roelof Kleis

WUR is going to give more priority to the issue of integrity, with workshops for staff and modules for students on academic and professional integrity.


One of the reasons for paying extra attention to integrity is the new code of conduct for scientists that came into force a year ago. The code lists 61 norms for ethical academic behaviour. WUR has its own general integrity code besides this. ‘But those codes are not enough by themselves,’ says rector magnificus Arthur Mol. ‘Integrity is an interpersonal matter. We must tackle it actively.’

Grey area
What this means in practice is that many employees will take a course with the new Integrity Officer, Astrid Mars. Workshops are being developed for both management and staff in which specific situations will be discussed that raise issues of integrity and group culture. ‘The codes are clear,’ says Mars. ‘But there is always a grey area, where different things can conflict. Then it is important that decisions have been properly weighed up. And the only way to do that is to discuss them thoroughly.’

Quite challenging
Such discussions can be quite challenging, says Mars, who has already trialled the workshop with several groups. ‘You might discover, for instance, that other people take a completely different view of things that you have always done in a particular way. But I have also noticed that such discussions can lead to new shared insights emerging, so that some kind of consensus does come out of it in the end. One of the groups even said: we should do this again. We are going to put it on the agenda.’

And that is precisely the outcome that is hoped for, says Mars. ‘The message is that we should discuss these kinds of things on a regular basis. Make sure you are prepared for, say, a situation in which a client puts pressure on you in an unethical fashion. So that you know how to deal with it.’ Staff don’t find it easy to make the right assessment of that kind of situation, says Mars. ‘I recently attended the opening of a team-building day for one of our research institutes. Three out of the six questions I was asked were about how to deal with a client who tries to influence the results of a study.’

Not compulsory
It is the directors of the science groups who decide who goes on a course. The Executive Board has made nothing compulsory. According to Mol, that wouldn’t work in an organization like WUR. ‘We think the science groups are responsible for implementing the integrity policy among the staff. And for PhD students, it is the Graduate Schools.’ But, adds Mol, people are not free to ignore the issue of integrity, either. ‘Staff and PhD students signed the integrity codes when they were appointed. The board offers everyone these workshops, but I don’t think it works to make it compulsory. In the end, the responsibility for ethical behaviour lies with the individual.’

Students as well as staff will experience the increased priority given to integrity. According to Mol, both Bachelor’s and Master’s students will take compulsory modules on ethics and academic integrity in the coming academic year. ‘Issues of ethical conduct will be addressed in the programme too. And we’ve agreed with the Graduate Schools that academic integrity will be included in the compulsory part of the education programme for PhD candidates.’ RK

Campaign and workshop

A new campaign on integrity started this week: ‘Doing the right thing, even if nobody’s looking’. As part of this campaign, on Monday 9 December you can join a short, interactive integrity workshop in Speakers’ Corner at Impulse. You can also meet Astrid Mars at this event, which starts at 12.30.