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By: Kim Strom, Director of UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Ethics and Policy

In 2021 leaders in Institutional Integrity and Risk Management initiated a project to identify and promote shared principles. Campus consensus emerged around four principles: integrity, community, transparency, and accountability. To foster reflection and continue the campus conversation, I will be using the newsletter to take a deeper look at each principle in turn. This month’s focus is accountability.

Accountability is often seen as an individual obligation. The synonyms for accountability include terms like answerability, responsibility, liability, and culpability. It typically has punitive implications. When scandals or crimes take place there will often be an outcry to hold someone accountable. People who apologize or admit a wrong are demonstrating personal accountability. Accountability is often reactive and negative, with overtones of control, fear, blame, and retribution. Thought of in that way it is hardly an inspiring and unifying ideal for any organization of community.

Consider another perspective on accountability as “the willingness to care for the well-being of the whole” (Block, 2018, p. 75). Block pairs accountability with commitment, creating a shared outward focus and mutual accountability. In this vision, accountability can empower, motivate, and unify. Accountability is transformed from a term of individual censure and burden to one of communal possibility.

  • What would it mean if accountability was one of the agreements all members of the Carolina community make when they come to live, work, or study here?
  • How would it change the ways that people interact with each other?
  • How would it change the way people see their opportunities, roles, and responsibilities?
  • How would it fit with community, transparency, and integrity?

Kim Strom is the Director of UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Ethics and Policy

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