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Bill Steinman
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Attention colleges: ISO 37001 can help

Colleges implicated in Operation Varsity Blues (and those not yet named) can act to prevent similar bribery situations and restore trust without reinventing the wheel: the ISO 37001 anti-bribery system is uniquely suited to help manage these bribery-risk situations.

ISO 37001 addresses the operational risks by a systematic and documented bribery risk assessment. (The domain of “high-bribery risk environments” now appears to include some domestic college admissions offices and athletic departments — as well as the traditional FCPA-related overseas resource extraction and pharma operations in lesser developed regions.)

ISO 37001 certification shows that a college voluntary submitted to and passed a rigorous audit of its anti-bribery management system, conducted by an accredited independent certifying body — applying a “reasonable assurance” standard of review (as is applied by public accounting firms when auditing the financial statements of U.S. public companies.)

Certification publicly communicates a simple trust-rebuilding message: “consistent with the seriousness of the situation and our values, we took action — we’ve implemented and become certified under the leading global anti-bribery management system: ISO 37001.”

Among the issues likely to be faced by colleges in the course of implementing ISO 37001: 

Actual or pending lawsuits and/or investigations – ISO 37001-related activities will largely be prospective, but litigation concerning past events has begun in some cases, and legal counsel’s opinion on any possible privilege-related issues is advisable.

Due diligence – What due diligence procedures should be applied to verify that applicants with claimed special (athletic or other) skills actually have these skills and accomplishments/awards?

Process improvement – Should “accurate and truthful” parent/guardian certifications and/or representations concerning use of an outside college advisor be part of the college’s application package?   

External stakeholders and scope of anti-bribery policy – As part of the standard’s bribery risk assessment consideration of external stakeholder’s views and/or requirements, applicable contractual and/or statutory boundaries will need to be considered — including those related to federal or state grants, the NCAA and major donors. Should a complete policy also contain provisions dealing with the risk of college athletes, researchers or other college community members as bribe targets?

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The country is fascinated and appalled by the breadth of the scandal — the brazen circumvention and exploitation of existing college admission practices, the amounts involved and the “right in our backyard” aspects of these cases.

As additional facts come to light — approximately 800 persons are reportedly involved and only around 50 have been identified to date — the value of a thorough, standards-based anti-bribery methodology applied to the college admissions process will only become more apparent.

ISO 37001 copies can be licensed here.

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Worth MacMurray was formerly general counsel of several public companies, a leader within PwC’s DC anti-corruption office, and a member of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group that worked with other countries over a 3-year period to create ISO 37001. He is now Principal at Governance & Compliance Initiatives. He is PECB Certified as both an ISO 37001 Lead Auditor and ISO 37001 Lead Implementer. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. An excellent resource for colleges and universities. However, university compliance programs tend to "stop at the door of the athletic department," so that may be a challenge that needs to be faced first.


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