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Ethics guidelines for international engagement developed

Cornell has announced a set of guidelines for ethical international engagement to help maintain relationships and collaborations overseas.

Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs, said much of the university’s work internationally is carried out through building relationships rather than brick-and-mortar campuses. Therefore, she said, a set of basic guidelines for forming and sustaining ethical relationships is useful.

“The whole point of working internationally is to learn from other people and other cultures,” Wolford said. “We gain a tremendous amount by ‘walking in another person’s shoes,’ so we can’t impose a generic set of values on our collaborators. At the same time, we need to think carefully about how to build good relationships with trusted colleagues for goals that align with the core beliefs and mission of this university.”

The set of six guidelines is intended to help faculty in their research, teaching and engagement around the world. In cases where concerns are raised within a collaboration about violations of academic freedom or other core Cornell values, the guidelines can help Cornellians carefully consider and develop an appropriate response with assistance from university leadership.

“I see the guidelines as an expression of our core values overseas,” Wolford said. “The guidelines are very nuanced and start from a position of empathy and respect, recognizing that those most closely involved with the collaborators are in the best position to determine whether a relationship is productive or should be reconsidered.”

The concept for creating the guidelines stemmed from discussions among university leadership, including President Martha E. Pollack, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff and college and school deans, about basic principles of ethical collaborations with partners outside the United States. Wolford then asked a subcommittee of the university’s International Council to develop and refine what became the final set of guidelines, which were then approved by the council, Kotlikoff and Pollack.

The subcommittee within the International Council that developed the guidelines was chaired by Elizabeth Brundige, associate clinical professor of law; the other members were Eli Friedman, associate professor of international and comparative labor, and Max Pfeffer, executive dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of development sociology.

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Rebecca Valli