Understanding Stanford’s Code of Conduct

Anne Sweeney Hoy, Stanford’s chief ethics and compliance officer, discusses the Code of Conduct, which is a tool kit for upholding Stanford’s high ethical standards.

For members of Stanford’s large, diverse community, who interact with a range of people and institutions from around the nation and world each day, “doing the right thing” isn’t always so simple.

Anne Sweeney Hoy is Stanford’s chief ethics and compliance officer.

Anne Sweeney Hoy is Stanford’s chief ethics and compliance officer. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Stanford’s Code of Conduct aims to help. The code, which has been part of the university’s administrative guidelines for several decades, was updated this fall to include third-party vendors and other university affiliates, including consultants, volunteers and those who provide other services to the institution. It also now provides guidance on how to respond to governmental and other investigations.

The code is a shared statement of goals, rules and values designed to build trust, protect members of the university community and help people act with integrity. It applies to a broad group, ranging from faculty, staff, students and trustees to consultants, contractors and volunteers. Members of the university community can use the code as a guide to help identify and avoid problem areas, such as workplace, scientific and research misconduct; discrimination and harassment; conflicts of interest or commitment; privacy issues; and fraud, theft and embezzlement.

Anne Sweeney Hoy, Stanford’s chief ethics and compliance officer, discusses the code and answers questions about how it can help members of the campus community uphold the highest ethical, professional and legal standards.


What expectations does the code apply to people as both individuals and members of the larger university community?

Each of us is expected to act in accordance with the law and with university policies and procedures. As a member of the community, you are expected to raise concerns or report suspected violations of the code, even when these concerns or violations may not affect you directly. It is important to note that we consider this a service to the institution and have a strong non-retaliation policy for those who, in good faith, report or provide information about concerns or suspected violations.

The code supports our mission and vision by reinforcing the fact that we are each accountable for our own actions. As members of the university community, we are collectively accountable for upholding these standards of behavior, as well as for compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and policies that guide our work.

Stanford has high ideals. The code helps us live up to them and support the expectations that accompany them.


How does the Code of Conduct protect members of the community?

Probably the most significant way is by providing assurances that, here at Stanford, we expect you to be treated fairly and honestly, and that there will be consequences for those who violate this expectation.

The code also provides recourse for you, as both an individual and a member of the university community. It serves as a resource in providing guidelines and tools to help people act appropriately and know what to do and where to turn when an uncomfortable situation arises. My hope is that it can also encourage and support open and honest communication among our university community.


How can a Code of Conduct be effective at such a complex institution?

The most critical component of everything we do here at Stanford is people. We have about 30,000 staff, faculty and students. Thousands more support Stanford in a multitude of critical activities – vendors, volunteers and our Board of Trustees, for example – and all of them are covered by the code.

For each person, the code is a starting point for clearly defining the values, standards and rules of behavior and engagement that guide our interactions with each other and that support our education, research, health care and business practices. Much of the code is common sense, but it also encompasses a wide range of situations and provides a vast amount of resources aimed at helping people understand the university’s expectations and know where to go for support.

We also have other policies, such as the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard for students, as well as the Stanford Health Care Code of Conduct. All of these specify expectations regarding behavior – how we conduct ourselves as members of the campus community – with each one tailored to address specific needs. Think of the Code of Conduct as a big umbrella, one that covers everyone who is a member of the university community.


The Code of Conduct was updated this fall. What’s different?

We believe that, with the revisions, the code more strongly emphasizes Stanford’s commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion. The revisions also expanded the applicability of the code to include third-party vendors and other affiliates, such as consultants, volunteers and others who provide services to the institution, and it now provides guidance on how to respond to governmental and other investigations.

Going forward, we’ll explore whether additional refinements are needed. The Stanford Presidential Initiative on Ethics, Society & Technology in the long-range planning process will also help us continue to refine and evolve our policies and do even more to foster a culture of ethical behavior.


What should people who experience or observe possible violations of the Code of Conduct do? And how can they be confident their concerns will be handled appropriately?

We encourage people to report a possible violation through their standard management channels, starting with their immediate supervisor, instructor or adviser or to higher-level management within their school or unit. If for any reason it is not appropriate or they do not feel comfortable doing so, individuals should contact our confidential helpline by phone at (650) 721-2667, by emailing compliance@stanford.edu or by using our web form, which is completely anonymous, at helpline.stanford.edu.

Violations of the code can take a number of forms. Typical examples involve misuse of money or confidential information. For instance, someone might inappropriately disclose sensitive information or mishandle intellectual property or file more than one reimbursement request for the same purchase or travel expense. But to the extent possible, we want to help members of our community avoid making these mistakes in the first place. So we are developing an outreach and awareness initiative to that end, with case studies and examples.

We also strongly encourage individuals to contact us with any questions or concerns that they may have, even if they aren’t sure whether a suspected violation has actually occurred. Often, the lessons learned and questions raised in inquiries like these – gray areas or close calls – can help reduce or prevent violations going forward. Every concern is handled in strict confidence. The Office of the Chief Risk Officer has a direct reporting relationship to the Board of Trustees, enabling us to act independently and objectively.

Members of the Stanford community want to make good choices and act with integrity, and we are here to support them as an adviser and a partner.