Ethics and Public Record Laws that Could Impact Faculty Members

From the Deans and Provost, Winter, 2015

We need to be aware of the Washington State laws regarding ethics and public records as we do our work for the college. Periodically, the deans will remind faculty of these laws because they do change. As the law regarding ethics for state employees states in its first sentence, “The proper stewardship of state resources, including funds, facilities, tools, property, and employees and their time, is a responsibility that all state officers and employees share.” Besides stewardship, there is the consequence of heavy fines and, possibly, the loss of your computer for significant amounts of time.

The most important advice we can give is to keep your work and personal life separate when using college resources.

Public employment cannot be used for personal gain or private advantage. Below is a brief summary of the laws affecting faculty so that you can quickly verify that you are in conformity with the law. Anyone in the state of Washington can file an ethics complaint and the ethics board is obligated to investigate. The investigations are of the individual faculty and staff and for that reason, college attorneys are not allowed to represent you. You can consult David McAvity, mcavityd@evergreen.edu, about any questions you have as well as John Craighill, our internal auditor: craighij@evergreen.edu

  1. State ethics law (RCW 42.52) applies to faculty and staff regarding computer use. If your computer is furnished by the college, you cannot use it for non-college related work. You can use it briefly and infrequently to check your personal e-mail accounts (e.g. Gmail or Yahoo), or to check websites for personal or family issues (e.g. financial business or doctor’s offices). You cannot use your computer for your own or a family member’s business or shopping. You cannot use your computer as an entertainment device on campus or while traveling.

  2. It is important to realize that much of our work is public record: Word documents, spreadsheets, pdfs, email, facsimiles, voice mail—all are sources of your work and can be searched in an ethics investigation. And, if you are asked to provide public records, that request is not optional; you must respond and do so quickly. Once a record has been requested, you cannot conceal it. If you are concerned that some records contain confidential information (health information, personal contact information, client/attorney exchanges), you should consult our public records officer, Anieska Timms publicrecords@evergreen.edu. She makes the decision about which parts of the record to withhold. It’s a good idea to consistently back up your work and delete anything that is not work-related. Contact the computing help desk if you want to permanently delete items: support@evergreen.edu

  3. Work-related records are part of the public record wherever they are located, even on a personal device (laptop, tablet, and phone). It is best to avoid using your personal email system for work; instead, log in to the Evergreen email system. It is not recommended that you use the app for Outlook Exchange on your personal phone. It is important to be aware that if you counsel students via email, either personal or college owned, this information can be subject to a public records request.

  4. If a request is made for information contained in your personnel file, the College is required to notify you before providing that information in response to a request. This is in order to allow you to seek a court injunction to bar the College from releasing those records. While courts rarely grant these injunctions, they are mainly put in place to protect you in situations involving stalking or harassment. If you feel harassed by someone requesting a public record containing your personal information, you can contact Anieska Timms in order to learn how to seek an injunction. Her contact information is: publicrecords@evergreen.edu

  5. If you require students to purchase a book or film for which you receive royalties, you must forego or donate the royalties.

  6. You cannot use your college computer or the college email system for fundraising, whether it is for humanitarian, political, profit or nonprofit organizations, unless it is authorized by the president of the college. You cannot use your college computer or the college email system for campaigning for a person or a ballot measure.

  7. For security reasons, you should not download programs from the Internet on your college computer. If you need access to software from the Internet for work purposes, check with our computer support folks before taking action: support@evergreen.edu. To help maintain IT security, be suspicious of emails requesting a login or a click on a link.

  8. Use of your work phone for local personal calls should be brief and infrequent. Long distance calls can only be work related.

For more explanation of ethics laws that could apply to your work (for example, federal grants, consulting, and honoraria) you can go here:

To consult the Washington State statutes regarding ethics and public records, go here or here:

For Frequently Asked Questions, go here: