Required state ethics training kicks off

By Matt Spartz

Last year, Marvin Zeman failed Illinois’ mandatory online ethics training by passing – too quickly. While the Southern Illinois University math professor is still pursuing a motion against the state to bar any punishment, Zeman is looking forward to taking the test again, which begins today and runs until Nov. 14 for University employees.

The yearly online ethics training is mandatory for all Illinois state employees, including professors and undergraduate student workers, according to the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act. Last year, 159 employees at SIU-Carbondale and 96 at SIU-Edwardsville had their training invalidated because they did not spend enough time on the process, according to the Associated Press.

The state told Zeman he completed the 80-plus pages of online reading and questions in six minutes, according to the Associated Press. The average time for other employees spent was 30 minutes.

“I don’t see how the state can punish me,” Zeman said. “I have no objection to if they force me to stay on a half-hour. My objection was that there was no time limit.”

He said there were no rules stating a specific amount of time was required to be spent on the material. He was informed that he did not spend enough time only after he completed the test.

Donna McNeely, University of Illinois ethics officer, said the state inspector general makes the guidelines for the test and the university administers it. There has not been a required time announced for this year’s test.

“Those time requirements have not been announced to the university, if there are any,” she said. “We’ve administered the test as we have in the past, reminding our employees that the inspector general’s office will be looking at the time.”

McNeely said there are more than 100 screens to read for the training. If employees simply read all the screens, there should be no problem with the amount of time they spend.

“It’s going to take quite a while to actually read all of those,” she said.

Gilbert Jimenez, Illinois deputy inspector general for investigations, said nothing about the test has changed in response to these incidents.

“The package, the presentation are constantly changing,” he said, because the test is put together by different companies for different years. “This is the result of making the training as meaningful and useful to employees (as possible).”

As for any time requirements or disclaimers at the beginning of the online training, Jimenez said he “can’t comment of the structure or content during the training.”

Jimenez said the results of the tests are constantly reviewed for effectiveness and quality.

“In our testing over recent months we’ve found that issue to be … dramatically reduced,” he said. “We’re very happy to find people can and do read and follow instructions.”