Calls to PSU's ethics hotline continue to trend up

Calls to Pennsylvania State University’s ethics hotline continue to trend up even as the university nears the two-year mark since the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal became public.

There were 130 calls to the hotline this year as of Aug. 31, compared to 159 for all of 2012. The statistics were shared with members of the board of trustees at an audit committee meeting last week.

If calls were to continue at the same pace, the total would exceed 170 by year's end.

Daniel Heist, Penn State’s director of internal audit, attributed the increased activity to more awareness of the hotline. The university posted links to the hotline on its home page, ran stories about it, posted placards around campus and mailed postcards to employees.

“As people become more aware of it, they use it and they tell other people about it,” Heist said.

It’s all to the good of the university, he said.

“Anything that encourages people doing the right thing and gives them an opportunity to report something does make it a better place,” he said.

The hotline was created in 2005, long before the child sex abuse scandal emerged, as many universities and organizations around the country began adding the mechanism as a way to increase reporting of problems and add accountability in the wake of corporate scandals, Heist said. It is used to report financial matters such as fraud, theft and conflict of interest, as well as other policy violations, including “research compliance matters, discrimination and athletics-compliance issues.”

Calls to the hotline ran relatively low before November 2011 when the scandal emerged involving Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, now in prison for sexually abusing boys on and off Penn State’s campus.

In 2010, there were 34 calls, six of them identified as “inquiry-based,” meaning they involved no formal report. “Inquiry-based” calls often are questions on how the hotline works or its purpose, or a report on an issue that isn’t within the scope of the hotline. Those are referred elsewhere, Heist explained.

In 2011, there were 40 calls (7 inquiry only); in 2012, 159 calls (44 inquiry only) and as of Aug. 31 this year, 130 calls (29 inquiry only), Heist said.

The hotline was heavily publicized last year as recommended in the investigative report on the scandal prepared by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and his team.

Of the calls received in 2012, 35 resulted in “some type of action,” such as discipline of an employee, counseling or a change in policy, Heist said. He declined to disclose the incidents reported saying only that the majority involved “human resource matters” or policy issues. He also would not cite specific action taken, saying the matters are confidential.

Most calls seem to come from faculty and staff, though the hotline allows anonymity so the identity of some callers isn’t known, Heist said.

The 24-hour hotline, which accepts input by phone or internet, is administered by an independent third party - Compliance Concepts, Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C.

Call information goes to the university’s Offices of Ethics and Compliance and Internal Audit, then are sent to an appropriate office for investigation, Heist said.

Callers can follow up and add information after their initial call and find out the resolution of the complaint, Heist said.

The hotline number is 1-800-560-1637 and the website to make an online report is