As of January 2023, Palacký University has a new, revised Code of Ethics. It concerns the work and teaching activities of academic and scientific employees at UP as well as student activities. The proposed Code of Ethics revision has been in the works for almost two years and was also examined in detail through multiple rounds of public discussion in the academic community and at multiple meetings of the UP Academic Senate. Head of the Rector's Office Martin Tomášek, one of the authors of the new code, explains in this interview how the code came about, what changes it contains, and what to expect from it.
What were the reasons for the changes in the UP Code of Ethics?
There were several immediate reasons, but the main one was that we tried to implement the principles established in the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers into our own Code. Additionally, the need arose to make several rules more precise – ones which the UP Ethics Commission found problematic in practice. There was also pressure to elaborate some of the rules, or define them more specifically in the sense of proper research work: reporting results, the roles of the “corresponding author” and the main author, and their ethical responsibilities.
What are the basic changes found in the new Code?
One of the central themes was narrowing the extent of the situations which it should regulate. It is necessary to determine which relations fall under the Code of Ethics. For example, whether to regulate a personal disagreement between two technical-economic employees, which in no way influences teaching or work activities. Or whether it should regulate the behaviour of employees outside their work activities, for example on holiday, when such conduct has nothing to do with one’s relationship to UP.
We, the group working on recodification, decided that it would be appropriate if the UP Code of Ethics was really concerned only with matters related to persons involved in work or teaching activities or influencing such activities. The committee does not and cannot take the place of those persons who are authorised at UP for deciding labour-related matters from the employer’s legal position.
What bearing does the new Code of Ethics have, for example, upon relations towards students?
Basically, I think that we were able to significantly widen the scope when it comes to questions dealing with abuse of power, sexual harassment, and abuse of station.
Do changes in the new Code of Ethics address even the composition of the university Ethics Commission?
From the organisational perspective, it is necessary to point out that the new Code of Ethics extends the UP Ethics Commission by one member, nominated by the CATRIN institute. The proposal for nominating this member was given to the rector by the director of this university institute on the basis of a proposal from the institute’s scientific board.
Were there any themes which were discussed but did not make it into the final form of the Code of Ethics?
There was a rather lengthy debate in relation to an amendment dealing with religion and its possible entry into work or teaching activities. The proposed amendment was changed several times, but in the end, there was no decision made because the text did not have the support of the vast majority of those who commented on it. With respect to the reality that the Code of Ethics should in principle encompass a widely shared notion of what is ethical or moral, this clause was not included.
Is there anything not resolved in the amendments which still needs to be addressed in that area?
Yes, we still need to amend the UP Ethics Committee Rules of Procedure; respectively, prepare for their transformation into the UP Ethics Committee Statute. In addition to amending its rules of procedure, we should generally define its status, its acceptance and handling of requests, and also the relationship of the Ethics Committee to UP divisions which deal with (un)ethical conduct, such as the UP Faculty of Science Ethics Committee. During the next few weeks, we plan to call a meeting of a work committee on that.
Should the close of work on the Rules of Procedure and the UP Ethics Committee bring about a settlement of relations in this area, and make possible proper discussion of ethical cases which are also the subject of negotiations by UP organs?
Yes, but only partially. It is necessary to keep in mind that the Code of Ethics and proceedings by the Ethics Committee deal with questions of ethics. Any wrongdoing on the ethical level should lead to Committee proceedings which would merely state that wrongdoing. It will create a definite source of information as to how a UP employee or student should behave if they do not want to come into conflict with the Code of Ethics. The result should be a clear communication on what not to do on the ethical level, on how not to misbehave on the moral level. Generally, it should introduce a sort of moral condemnation which is in line with the UP Code of Ethics.
On a completely different level, it is necessary to resolve cases when an employee behaves in a way which conflicts with the responsibility coming from legal requirements related to carrying out their job. Then it is up to the appropriate organ of the employer – usually the dean, institute director, or rector – to deal with this conflict in a timely fashion; if possible, in cooperation with the employee’s supervisor, or personnel office, or the legal department. This is the only way to effectively react to a conflict of legal responsibilities. The idea that violating legal responsibilities can be resolved legally by the UP Ethics Committee is a common misapprehension, which unfortunately can lead to unintended and sometimes unwanted fallout for the university.
The same can be said about disciplinary actions which can also apply to UP students if they intentionally violate the responsibilities stated in the legal stipulations or internal rules of the university and its components. If there are actions taken against a student, the results of which are legally relevant, then it is necessary to conduct disciplinary actions, not make a case before the UP Ethics Committee.