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Partnering with United Nations to fight official corruption

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Northeastern University held a workshop this week at which scholars and leaders from around the globe came together at the Egan Research Center to discuss the development of a first-of-its-kind curriculum for courses on preventing corruption in the public sphere, along with other courses. The three-day event, entitled the International Workshop on the Development of Academic Anti-Corruption, concluded yesterday.

“We are here to put together a product that will be offered to universities and be incorporated into the curricula,” said Dimitri Vlassis, chief of the UN’s Corruption and Economic Crime Branch Division of Treaty Affairs, which is based in Vienna. “We will utilize the collective experience and knowledge represented at this table to create a complete structure that will target not only business and law schools, but will be relevant to the fields of public administration, the social sciences and criminal justice.”

The gathering, coordinated by Professor Nikos Passas of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was a collaboration between Northeastern and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime designed to yield an unprecedented anti-corruption framework to be made available to academic institutions worldwide, and translated into a number of different languages. The workshop drew participants from China, Russia and Argentina, among other international locales, and was supported by faculty and staff from Northeastern’s Law School, Center for Emerging Markets and the College of Business Administration. The College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Vice Provost Bob Lowndes also provided financial support.

Officials from the UN Development Programme, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Bar Association and other international organizations were present. Officials traveled from each of the world’s UN regions to Boston for the three-day meeting.

While there is no single worldwide definition of corruption, the term generally refers to  such actions as bribery, money laundering and extortion.

It is important, Passas said, to focus on education efforts at the university level because it was the best way to reach and inform future leaders. Because the field is so broad, the group decided to create a “menu” that educators teaching courses on corruption could consult for resources, reference and guidance.

Georges Van Den Abbeele, the dean of Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities, said he was grateful that attendees traveled to Boston from all over the world to work to establish standards for teaching about corruption.

“I look forward to working with you as you tackle this problem of corruption, which is a top priority worldwide,” Van Den Abbeele said.

With the workshop complete, participants will continue to correspond and collaborate as they work to transform a draft syllabus into a complete academic program accessible to universities worldwide. The course would address a wide array of issues, including the origins and varieties of corruption that exist, how widespread issues of corruption and where they are most severe, and the development of international policies and strategies targeted at stopping corruption in public and private spheres.

The completed draft syllabus will be presented at the fifth Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption and at the annual General Meeting of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities, both of which are to be held this October in Marrakesh, Morocco. Prior to the publication of the final syllabus, expected in early 2013, a pilot version of the course would be offered at 30 to 40 law schools worldwide.

“It is important for universities to teach about these kinds of corruption,” said Mary Crane-Charef, the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs in the Anti-Corruption Division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in France. “We can all find a way to work with universities so the next generation of business and policy leaders can be more aware of the kinds of corruption, why it’s bad and how it can be stopped.”

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