State may create university ethics code

Mai Hoang

If Western has any deep, dark secrets, it may be harder for it to hide them in the future.

President Gary Ransdell, the Board of Regents and Western employees could be under a set of ethics codes for all Kentucky colleges and universities. The General Assembly must first approve a set of ethics reforms from the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Joe Helm, the commission’s chairman, said it has considered creating such ethics codes before, but the reforms have become more of a priority after the ethics and spending issues of former University of Louisville President John Shumaker were raised.

Shumaker resigned from his post as University of Tennessee president after questions were raised about personal use of the UT plane and credit card.

An audit of his practices while at U of L shows he invested in a company of one of its trustees and had several thousand dollars of personal charges on the university credit card.

Ransdell said he supports the commission’s attempt to create an ethics code for colleges and universities.

“When you deal with public policy you need to reveal anything that will affect in a negative way good public policy,” Ransdell said.

Helm said these reforms do not mean that other universities and colleges have unethical practices, but rather these codes will provide effective and enforceable ethical standards in the future.

“Colleges and universities were considered to be one of the several unmet ethics enforcement challenges that existed in Kentucky,” Helm said. “Perhaps the attention that has been paid to the Shumaker situation gives us a better opportunity to address the subject better than we have in the past.”

Helm said creating ethics codes for colleges and universities is a challenge because funding for those institutions isn’t completely from the state.

The commission will look to the General Assembly’s actions to determine how to set up ethical codes. The commission may examine codes from other states as well as codes for other governmental entities.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, is one of the main supporters of these reforms. Helm said they will be looking to Richards to help push these reforms.

Richards did not return several phone calls made this week.

Ransdell said he has worked with other state university presidents and the Council on Post-Secondary Education to create and fill out a form that would give full disclosure to their finances and activity.

CPE spokesman Bill Swinford said the form the presidents have voluntarily agreed to fill out is similar to the one state government officials fill out. Under current Kentucky statutes, university presidents do not have to fill out this form.

Ransdell said he submitted a similar form for the South Carolina government when he was a vice president at Clemson University.

“It’s getting so much attention,” he said. “Let’s take it upon ourselves to show people in this state that we don’t have those problems.”

Under these new reforms, the commission has also agreed to create ethical codes for state boards. Western’s Board of Regents is a state board.

Regents Chair Lois Gray said a committee is in the process of creating a way to show the business and practices of the board.

“It is not an issue for us as board members,” Gray said. “I think we will be in total support in being open to our dealings and business.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]