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In many questions on this site, I see the suggestion to contact one's university's "ethics board" (or "ethics committee" or similar) to decide in the case of disputes related to research or general ethics. A few examples of many:

It seems that the authors of the respective answers usually take it for granted that the university has such an "ethics board".

I have studied computer science for six years at a German university, and then kept working at another German university for a bit more than five years while getting my doctorate. Especially while working there, I have been heavily involved in teaching, and I was regularly in touch with groups from various other German and also international universities while doing my research. Yet, in my real-life university experience, in no situation have I ever heard of anything remotely reminiscent of an "ethics board".

Therefore, I am interested in the following set of interrelated questions:

  • Do German (or maybe European, in general) universities have anything resembling an "ethics board"?
  • Is there a body that regularly resolves ethical disputes (or is the ethics angle maybe not that focused because German universities also have nothing called "honor code" or an "ethics policy" (which I see mentioned on this site, too) that could be used as an objective basis for deciding in the case of disputes)?
  • Or is all of this nonsense, and it is just that the nomenclature is so radically different that I do not see the analogy to certain boards and offices that I am well acquainted with in the German universities I have been to?

1 Answer 1

There is the notion of Ethikkommission (searching for it you will find many hits).

However, this is in my understanding mainly concerned with ethical questions related to research activities, in the sense of question whether a particular research activity is legitimate or if there are ethical or moral concerns against it (rather than academic conduct or misconduct). To interact with it is quiet widespread and routine in the life sciences, I think. In other disciplines it is by and large a non-subject. For the second quote you link to it could be relevant.

As far as other subjects go I am not sure if there is a uniform naming or legal regulations, but typically universities will have things like:

  • Datenschutzbeauftragte or a Datenschutzkommission for issues related to handling of personal data and alike.

  • Gleichstellungsbeauftragte or a Kommission fûr Chancengleicheit for questions related to equal opportunities and discrimination.

  • Behindertenbeauftragte for concerns of persons with special needs.

  • Kommission zur Untersuchung von Vorwürfen wissenschaftlichen Fehlverhaltens for investigations of scientific misconduct.

Instead of a Kommission it could also be an Ausschuss, or some other variation.

At a university level such committees are often attached to the Senat, but they can exist on lower levels, too.