1. Transparency and confidentiality

Case:

1.1: Lack of transparency about the use of project funds
1.2: Not reporting accidents
1.3: Tacit "agreement" about use of project funds
1.4: Instructions from a superior to circumvent purchasing regulations
1.5: Invitation from a business

Case 1.1: Lack of transparency about the use of project funds
A PhD candidate has reported that she does not have access to information about the finances of the project on which she is working. In one case, the professor/supervisor travelled to a conference with his wife, and the PhD candidate believes that the trip was financed from project funds. The finances are controlled by the supervisor, while the PhD candidate feels that this should have been the responsibility of the institution and not of the individual professor or supervisor.

Several PhD candidates report similar experiences, and feel that there is a lack of transparency and openness about the use of funds in the project. There is nothing in the contract to specify how the finances are to be managed.

Questions: Should the contract have included provisions for the control of the project finances, and how should the responsibility be shared between the professor/supervisor, PhD candidate and institution? How should one raise the issue?

General comment: The PhD contract imposes a general obligation on the parties to provide relevant information, but does not include any specific details that cover the situation described above. On the basis of comments from the pilot testers, one of the problems is a lack of transparency, and a lack of trust experienced by one of the parties (the PhD candidate). One alternative is to make the regulations very detailed. We believe, however, that it is far preferable to strive for openness about all use of the project resources.

Comments from the pilot testers:
Comment 1: From the perspective of equal opportunities, I am especially concerned about the transparency of structures that affect the individual's progress and potential career choices. It must be easy for a PhD candidate to feel powerless in situations like this. This also applies to maternity or paternity leave, where management at the department takes up to NOK 100,000 of the project funds as a substitute for reimbursement that is not provided by NAV [the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Organization].

Comment 2: Does the professor not have an accounting obligation to the authority granting the funds? In this case, improper use of funds would surely be discovered. If the professor spends funds on his wife, this is unacceptable - but it is also unacceptable if the PhD candidate is spreading false rumours.

Link to PhD contract, in particular, see Part B § 4 regarding the duty to provide information: The candidate and the supervisor(s) undertake to keep one another informed on an ongoing basis about all matters of significance for supervision. The parties undertake to actively follow up any matters which could lead to supervision not functioning as is agreed in § 5 below.

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Case 1.2: Not reporting accidents
Several students and employees at NTNU work at premises used for experimentation where SINTEF is the main player. A serious accident takes place on the premises. By chance, few people are present at the time. The NTNU employees have part-time jobs at the local SINTEF unit. The incident is not reported.

Questions: Why is the fact that the incident was not reported open to criticism? What risks should be weighed up against each other in this case?

General comment: We do not know whether the regulations were circumvented or unknown in this case. The reporting obligation is clear. However, the temptation to save one's own skin may have been greater than the interest in maintaining a healthy research culture. Why would reporting the incident be a problem – possibly because the necessary safety measures had not been taken?

Comments from the pilot testers:
Comment 1: All accidents must be reported; there should naturally be no distinction between researchers in this respect. The same rules should apply to NTNU employees and SINTEF employees. Recording such accidents will also help to improve preventive measures at the research premises.

Comment 2: What kind of accident was it? This is not very clear from the description. Was anybody hurt? If so, was it a serious injury? Damage to equipment? Extensive destruction? In any case: Such incidents must be reported. The line manager of their own unit must be notified, as well as the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority if someone was seriously injured. Perhaps preventive measures are needed? For an occupational accident, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Organization (NAV) must also be informed (injury form). It might also be relevant to contact the safety representative?

NTNU's rules for reporting nonconformities.

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Case 1.3: Tacit "agreement" about use of project funds
Due to illness in the family, a member of the teaching staff who is in charge of a project does a great deal of the work at home for a long period. Some of the project funds are used to convert and furnish an office at home to enable a more effective workday.

Questions: Does this case raise ethical concerns, and if so, what are they?

General comment: On the one hand, this is a matter of caring for others and adaptation; on the other, the question is which funds are to be used: project funds or operating funds.

Comments from the pilot testers:
Comment 1: Project funds should not be used for furnishing a home office. This case concerns the employer's responsibility and willingness to give staff the opportunity to combine work and caregiving. Therefore, operating funds and not project funds should be used for such purposes.

Comment 2: Is the renovation taking place without further consideration? This should be discussed and clarified with the parties involved. On the one hand, the renovation helps to make it possible to carry out the project despite illness, but on the other hand it probably entails an upgrade of the staff member's home, with a possible gain in the future (if it is sold, rented, etc, but also if he/she continues living there).

Link to code of ethics for procurement at NTNU (in Norwegian).

The closest that we get to a description of the case above appears in the section on personal use of framework agreements, which states:

1. Framework agreements with vendors for the supply of products and services to NTNU must not be used by employees for their personal use. This also applies to parties closely related to employees if the benefit must be assumed to stem from the staff member's employment relationship at NTNU.

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Case 1.4: Instructions from a superior to circumvent purchasing regulations
In connection with the processing of applications to XX, a case officer is told by a superior that an application is to be granted, even though it violates guidelines/legislation. What should the case officer do?

Question: Why is it a problem for the case officer to report the matter?

General comment: There are several possible reasons to consider this a problem, but in any case a culture in which leaders circumvent the regulations is not in NTNU's interests. Perhaps the regulations are not well-known; if so, the lack of sufficient transparency in the academic environment is a problem.

Code of ethics for procurement at NTNU (in Norwegian).

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Case 1.5: Invitation from a business
A leader regularly receives invitations from a firm offering VIP tickets to Champions League football matches, and uses the tickets. Other employees react to this; should they do anything?

Questions: Why do other employees react to this, and why is it blameworthy for their colleague to accept the tickets?

General comment: Here, it appears that employees are reacting because of concern about which implicit and explicit guidelines apply to the relationship between the firm and their superior. Their concern may be based on uncertainty about whose interests are being served: NTNU's or the leader's own interests?

The code of ethics for procurement at NTNU states the following about such issues: Section 20 of the Civil Service Act [Tjenestemannsloven] specifies:

Prohibition of gifts in the service, etc.

"No senior civil servant or civil servant may on behalf of himself/herself or others accept a gift, commission, service or other payment which is likely, or which by the donor is intended, to influence his/her official actions, or acceptance of which is prohibited by regulations. Violation may entail disciplinary measures or summary dismissal."