Concern arose this July when students in the communication disorders department discovered that one of the professors, Dr. Inge Anema, had had her American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) membership certification suspended for 12 months following a violation of their code of ethics.
ASHA is the professional association for speech-language pathologists, audiologists and speech, language and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally, providing accreditation for members to work professionally in a clinical environment, such as the non-profit Speech-Language and Hearing Center run by the communication disorders department in the Humanities Building basement.
The discovery of the membership suspension was made by a student via ASHA’s online news magazine, The ASHA Leader, which alongside articles relating to the field of speech, language and hearing, publishes the judiciary rulings of ASHA’s Board of Ethics. In the July 2014 issue, the decision regarding Anema as well as an explanation of her violation was published, stating the following:
“Inge Anema of New Paltz, N.Y. [has been found in violation of the association’s code of ethics] by misrepresenting supervised research findings presented at the 2012 ASHA Convention and based on human subject research conducted without Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval; engaging volunteers in an informed consent process for research that involves human subjects in the absence of an IRB-approved consent process; intentionally disregarding and neglecting the protocol established by the university’s IRB and Human Research Ethics Board and the federal Office of Human Research Protection; and by proceeding with conducting an unapproved research project; and by directing students for whom she had research oversight and mentoring responsibilities to proceed with gathering and reporting data involving human subject research without IRB approval, thus compromising her integrity as a mentor and research professional.”
At the time, Anema was scheduled to teach a research methods course in the coming fall semester, prompting other students made aware of the suspension to bring her concerns to the chair of the communication disorders department, Wendy Bower, since Anema’s violation was related to her research.
“What you have to understand is that as professionals, researchers are bound by several different organizations to conduct themselves in ethical ways,” Bower said. “The first step before starting a research study is to get approval through the IRB. It’s part of our institutional policy – any researcher on-campus who wants to conduct human subject research has to receive approval through this national body. It’s a protection for yourself as a researcher and for your subjects.”
Bower said it was not unusual for an IRB proposal to go through several renditions before being approved. She could not provide specific details relating to a personnel matter, but said Anema breached IRB protocol in 2012, upon which the department was obligated to report the incident to the proper oversight agencies, among them ASHA, after becoming aware of it in the spring of 2013.
“ASHA sends these kinds of complaints on to a judiciary body; that body took a year to deliberate,” Bower said. “And so therefore you have this publication that comes out with this information very much after the fact and very much after what had originally happened and very much after sanctions had already been put in place and actually been met through the college.”
The sanctions were decided on by the IRB and the provost of the college. Bower could again not provide details on a personnel matter, but said the sanctions had all been met by the time Anema’s ASHA membership certification was suspended and student inquiry as to her qualification to teach the research methods course began. According to Bower, following the ASHA membership suspension, Anema was only to be removed from the clinical practice and supervision courses run through the Speech-Language and Hearing Center, which require an ASHA certified instructor.
Bower said when students approached her with the issue, they claimed they were going to report the matter to ASHA. Bower explained to them that as non-ASHA members they could not report an ethical violation to the organization, but as students they could form a complaint with Bower as department chair about a professor not being qualified to teach a course for a particular reason. The complaint could then be taken up the chain of command to the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and then the provost if the student was not satisfied with the ruling.
“I accepted that student complaint as not being valid because I felt that the instructor was qualified to teach the course – she had the appropriate academic credentialing, a PhD., research experience, she had been teaching the course prior and the sanctions [of the violation] had been met,” Bower said. “In my mind she was qualified to teach that research methods course.”
The issue was then brought to the dean and in turn passed to the office of the provost. According to Bower, it was decided on by the provost to remove Anema from the research methods course, not because she deemed unqualified, but to “protect her from the hostile environment” that emerged among some students in the department.
Bower said the decision to remove Anema from the course created a divide among students, particularly the now second-year graduate students in the communication disorders program, many of whom where present on campus during the summer for clinical work. Bower said students came to speak in defense of Anema, expressing discontent that the complaints of one or a few students calling for her removal resulted in a decision in their favor.
“It was very divisive. It wasn’t a healthy atmosphere to have in the department,” Bower said. “I think this created a lot of hard feelings. I’m not sure if it’s resolved. I don’t think it’s that simple.”
Though there was no intention from the department to inform students about Anema’s ASHA suspension because it constituted a personnel issue, Bower said she regretted the way in which students became aware it because it did not make clear the time frame of the event, leading to the initial anger.
“From my point of view, a person who has a PhD., a person who is respected in the department, who has held this position, who has just received tenure certainly to those qualifications, that is a pretty severe allegation,” Bower said. “I’m not saying that students shouldn’t question faculty, not saying they should question departmental decisions, but what I am saying is that students should have the information that they need to have to make these allegations and in this case I just feel like it wasn’t justified to make them against a faculty member without having had the whole story.”
“When I did provide the one student who came to me with the complaint the whole story, they left satisfied – and then took it to the dean’s level,” Bower said. “I don’t know what else I or the department could have done to mitigate the concerns [held by some students].”