By SUSAN JONES
Laurel Gift, assistant vice chancellor of the new Office of Compliance, Investigation and Ethics, started at Pitt on April 6, so it’s been a bit challenging to get out and meet people on campus.
On May 21, she sat in on the Senate Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy Committee and gave a short introduction of herself and the new office.
A working group formed last year by the University to look at how internal investigations — in athletics, research, faculty, Title IX cases and more — were handled, recommended that a centralized office be created.
“The effort is to create some uniformity and transparency about how investigations are done university-wide,” said Gift, who reports to Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer. “This will include having a centralized case management system where I will at least have awareness of what investigations are going on, to make sure that they’re staying on track and that they have resources that they need.”
Before joining Pitt, Gift served as senior deputy attorney general for Pennsylvania and as an Allegheny County assistant district attorney, according to Pittwire. After clerking for a judge, Gift went into private practice where she focused on internal investigations and litigation and worked with clients such as school districts and nonprofits.
Gift expects the office will ultimately house the alert line that now runs through the internal audit group. She’s already working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on how they do investigations and to help figure out the new Title IX regulations.
The other areas she’ll be dealing with are compliance, which can cover a broad range of issues, and ethics.
“There are some areas that have been flagged for me as areas of concern that will probably be the focus of the office at least in the first year,” Gift said. “Most of those have been centered around privacy and data and how we use it, and how we protect people’s privacy.”
She will serve as the University’s privacy officer, which could mean dealing with issues raised, for instance, when a student group wants to put a webcam near the student union or what happens with information gathered if the University is taking everyone’s temperature to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“If we use apps to track people’s locations and try to identify areas that are highly populated where maybe social distancing isn’t working, that’s tracking people’s movement, and there’s obvious privacy concerns around that,” she said. “That’s a really big piece of the job and the one that frankly I have the most learning to do, mostly with respect to how the University operates.
“The focus that the chancellor has given me, at least for my first few months, has been to analyze and make recommendations about how we do investigations, and then the privacy function,” Gift said.
Eventually, she’ll also be overseeing the University’s ethics program, but there needs to be some preliminary work first.
“In my view, I’m not sure that the University really has (an ethics program) in a formal sense. We have ideas and values and things that we say at various places but, for example, we don’t really have a clear code of conduct for staff and faculty. It exists in a bunch of different places and handbooks, but it’s not really clear,” Gift said.
A classic ethics program starts with some form of code of conduct, she said, and then involves internal controls, such as internal audits and investigations. “And then ethics training, really should follow from those two pieces, and I’m not sure that we’re doing that in a clear way to staff or faculty throughout the university.”
Ultimately, she said, “I really want everyone at the University to view this office as a resource.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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