I wrote an article for Arkhimedes on the new Kumpula Campus Code of Conduct. Here is a copy of the article as submitted. Corrections and alterations made after submission are not reflected here.
There are thirty-nine assertions in the Kumpula Campus Code of Conduct, such as “we strive for openness of meaning, tolerance for different opinions and avoidance of moralistic language,” and “we promote diversity and inclusiveness, both in terms of personal characteristics and professional skills.” They can be found on the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science website, displayed on walls outside offices, and linked from QR codes on ‘rollup’ displays. There are even signs in every bathroom on campus.
The whole code takes a couple of minutes to read. In less than a year it has become ubiquitous. What is the purpose of this Code of Conduct and how did it come into being?
Why do we need a code of conduct?
Some might find it strange that, in a country as associated with equality, tolerance and personal freedom as Finland, it is necessary to devise a code of conduct at all. Furthermore, the University of Helsinki is required by Finnish legislation (such as the Non-Discrimination Act and the Equality Act) to take formal steps as an employer and educational institution to address inappropriate behaviour, such as making an equality plan. What was lacking, however, was a clear, simple document expressing in a positive way the expectations we have for our environment as a safe and productive place to work and study. Our code therefore would cover everything from discrimination and harassment through to acting with honesty and integrity, and fairness.
We know from general workplace wellbeing surveys as well as specific harassment surveys that low-level harassment continues to be a problem; that not everyone believes that equality is achieved in practice in their workplace; and that internal communication could be improved. Our code of conduct is one intervention that can help with these matters. It is my personal view that a code of conduct should be a readable document, but should not contain any surprises; indeed, the principles should be acceptable to (and accepted by) everyone to whom the code applies. But if the code is broken, then it should be easy to explain to everyone involved, and the wider community, what has happened and how.
The issue of having a code of conduct for every event or organisation currently has a relatively high profile in the anglophone world. This is motivated partially by prominent recent sexual harassment cases and the consequences of #MeToo. There is also a desire to clearly assert that everyone really is welcome and valued. On the other hand, there has been some debate over their efficacy as a mechanism to prevent inappropriate behaviour and then handle it in a transparent and open manner when reported. That is why I believe that our existing, formal policies on harassment and discrimination are also important and must be retained and strengthened.
Writing the Code of Conduct
The Faculty of Science has a system of Wellbeing Groups, founded first by Hanna Vehkamäki in the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research, but then expanded to the other departments of the faculty in 2017. These are intended to be low-threshold points of contact for help and support with difficult situations in the workplace, as well as improving internal communications and planning recreational events. It was out of some informal discussions in one such Physics Wellbeing Group meeting that the idea of developing a code of conduct first came up.
After a Faculty of Science Board meeting in October 2018 the Dean, Kai Nordlund, invited Samuli Siltanen, Eija Tuominen, and me to devise a code of conduct for the Faculty. The exact remit was open to negotiation, although the final code could not of course contradict or go beyond existing University of Helsinki policies. We made some initial choices that shaped the structure of the code. We decided that it would be called the Kumpula Campus Code of Conduct, not the Faculty of Science Code of Conduct, to reflect the fact that we wanted something that covered everyone studying and working at our campus. This meant people who were not directly employed by, or studying in, the Faculty would be clearly covered. Visitors would also be part of the remit.
In addition, we opted to structure the principles in the Code around the University’s values: Truth and Knowledge, Autonomy, Creativity, Critical Mind, Edification and Wellbeing. This was partially in hope that the university as a whole would see the link between its academic values and the everyday interpersonal interactions of its members.
We had some clear ideas on what needed to be covered but took considerable inspiration from the CERN Code of Conduct. Furthermore, we consulted with other members of the campus community, in particular lab engineer Pirkitta Koponen and Masters student Anna Kormu, to make sure that the language we were proposing would make sense to everyone working or studying on campus.
The range of topics covered by the code ranges from discrimination and harassment through to avoiding conflicts of interest and tolerance of a diversity of opinion. Backed by Finnish law, and existing university-wide policies on harassment, discrimination, academic freedom, research ethics and health and safety, nothing in the code should come as a surprise. Indeed, the code itself should hopefully be totally uncontroversial to those who encounter it.
With the structure and source material agreed, it did not take long to write the code. After the Code of Conduct was approved by the Faculty Board, it was advertised in a number of ways. Rollups were placed in the lobby of each building on campus and laptop stickers (in Finnish, Swedish and English) were designed by a marketing specialist in the University communications services to bring attention to the new Code.
People involved with the implementation, as well as the Dean, have been giving talks at full staff meetings in every department on campus to explain and answer questions on the new code of conduct. New members of staff in the faculty are given a copy of the code of conduct and asked to abide by it. The code is also part of the information on prevention of inequality and discrimination in the Student Guide, and students could get a free laptop sticker advertising the code at the start of the new academic year. Furthermore there are new trilingual posters in every toilet on campus with information on reporting harassment, and a link to the guide.
The Code of Conduct supplements, but does not replace, existing policies and procedures against harassment and discrimination. It works alongside low-threshold ways of obtaining advice and support, such as our departmental wellbeing groups and harassment contact persons. Students are also supported by the Student Union and other student groups, who have also taken their own steps towards promoting a safe and respectful study environment. I believe that the more information and sources of support our staff and students have, the better – so long as they are believed and taken seriously when they do report something.
Trilingual laptop stickers and ‘rollups’ were created by University communications services to accompany the launch of the new code of conduct. The rollups can be found in the foyers of each building on the Kumpula campus. The image used in the background is part of the Faculty of Science graphic identity.
We would very much like the whole of the University of Helsinki, and indeed other Finnish universities, to adopt a code of conduct. However, we are proud that we were able to move quickly but thoughtfully to give the Faculty of Science one of the first codes of conduct in the higher education sector in Finland. We are always ready to hear feedback from people about the Code, and we will be watching the results of workplace wellbeing surveys to see if this – along with other interventions –is helping to make the Kumpula campus a better place for everyone. The Wellbeing Groups also have a part to play in providing feedback and supporting the implementation of the code in each department.
Our work is not done; the Code of Conduct will be honed and adjusted in the future, as we see how best such an instrument fits into existing tried and tested structures and procedures in Finnish higher education. We also devised a shorter code of conduct for Physics Days 2019, which the University of Helsinki conference services now encourages other conferences to use, too. It has recently been adopted also for the annual conference of Nordic Network for Diversity in Physics, held in Helsinki in October 2019.
A code of conduct only makes sense as part of a broader range of measures to improve wellbeing in the workplace. For example, it would be good to see unconscious bias training for people involved in management or hiring decisions. It can be difficult, and emotionally hard, to appreciate one’s own biases – but it is very important that we all try.
While not every initiative developed elsewhere will transfer well to the Finnish academic environment, the early indications are clear that a code of conduct helps to make everyone feel safe and welcome. It is also a clear unambiguous public statement of the values we strive to uphold at work.
- University of Helsinki Equality and Diversity Plan 2019-2020
- CERN Code of Conduct
- Physics Days 2019 Code of Conduct
- Strategic Plan for the Univeristy of Helsinki 2017-2020
- Kumpula Campus Code of Conduct (English version)
- Aalto-yliopiston professori nimitti korkeakoulua arvostelleita opiskelijoita ”kaheleiksi”, yliopiston mukaan kommentit ovat asiattomia (in Finnish)