Case Study: Aligning institutional and community ethics for lasting cultural change




Macquarie University – 2007

Newly installed into an institution that could loosely be described as 9 siloed colleges, a largely voiceless student body, small but agitated unions and a disengaged community, President Steven Schwartz decided to begin a conversation about universities and responsibility they have to lead by example. To that end he asked us:

To partner with the St James St Ethics Centre to lead the first Australian university-wide ethics project.

To have the broadest possible consultation with stakeholders groups, including: students, staff, local community, government, media, agents, parents and business leaders. We need to measure our current behaviours.

To collaboratively design a broad statement of ethics for the whole university to adopt.




At a young 40 years of age, Macquarie had never asked itself what it believed in:

Should academics mandate their students purchase self-published text books?
Should staff be required provide reports on business travel and associated expenditure?
What should penalties be for student plagiarism?
What are our standards when dealing with each other?

As a result a broad spectrum of behaviours was in evidence and accepted on a daily basis, often to the detriment of students. In addition many staff and students felt powerless to act when faced with poor behaviours.



The broadest possible stakeholder engagement project commenced involving conversations, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with over 2,000 separate people. This provided, not only an accurate snapshot of the current status, but a clear roadmap of the ethical behaviour by which our community wanted to live.

Following careful consultation with St James St Ethic Centre representatives, a draft Ethical Statement was formulated. All stakeholders were invited to comment on the draft which was then adjusted to fit feedback and a final Ethical Framework published.



We achieved a consensus position on ethical behaviours which staff and students could easily cite and police. However, the much larger result was the beginnings of community conversations on all aspects of university life: academic freedom, duty of care to students, community engagement, employer expectations etc.

Silos were broken down, coinciding with a structural change from 9 colleges to 4 faculties. In 2010, 90% of staff said they felt supported by their colleagues – the highest result across Australian universities.



Universities often talk about broad stakeholder consultation and often this simply means inviting comment: the most agitated are usually the loudest.

By systematically targeting a balanced representation across all affected groups, we achieved the largest stakeholder consultation in the University’s history. Surprisingly, the number of voices clarified rather than obscured our preferred destination.