Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Campus ethics


The academic world has been concerned with the teaching of ethics to undergraduate students for several years. But how can we teach ethics without "walking our talk"? The Center for the Study of Ethics clearly asserts,
"Educational institutions are microcosms of culture and the society that supports them. As such, they should be bastions of ethical behavior. These institutions should be the training ground for students to determine and practice their personal ethics code which will guide them for the remainder of their lives."
I agree. Which is why I am very concerned about an incident that occured on my campus this semester.

At my school students are leased laptops computers. Every full-time students is charged a fee to cover the lease and associated costs. Students are not permitted to connect their own computers to the campus network. Part-time students may lease a laptop from helpdesk for shorter periods of time.


The incident began with a disconnect between the admissions department and the information technology services staff. When the dust cleared the school had admitted more students than computers to lease. This is not a bad problem if your proactive.


The solution is easy. Buy more computers! Unfortunately, common-sense must be rare on our campus because the problem went ignored for some time.

At mid-term more computers were purchased but distribution was not immediate. We are now in the 13th week of the semester and it appears that each student has their computer.

The Center stresses the importance of administrative decision-making. They also stress the importance of the institution as a positive role model of ethical behavior.
"Decisions are made within administration which affect the entire institution, including faculty, staff, support personnel, students, and even visitors to the campus. These decisions should be models of ethical consideration for all involved, and should serve as examples for the school community. Higher education has the role of providing not just such examples for students, but of providing students with education in ethical values, including the underlying concepts, critical thinking skills to help in decision making, a broad view of universal ethical codes, and a sense of responsibility for others when making personal choices."
The fee students are charged is $1,680 per year. It is not clear how much of this is allocated for the laptop computer because all fees are lumped together. However, the technology exceeded $1,000 before it was bundled with the others. The shortage caused students to look for alternative sources of computing devices. This is when they learned the computer in use sold for approximately $800 before it was discontinued. These are the facts as they were presented to me by my students and I'll not draw any conclusions about them at this point.

One of my colleagues inquired of the President as to the status these students laptops during a recent faculty senate meeting. It was still unknown at that time whether or not all of the students had received their computers at that time. She continued her inquiry by asking if the short-changed students would be recieving a refund? The President's reply was, "We'll have to investigate that."

Consider for one moment that you paid for a product in your local shopping mall upon the promise of immediate receipt of the goods. What would you think if you later discovered that the product was unavailable? What would you do if the store manager told you she''d has to investigate whether or not you were entitiled to a refund?

Not only is this behavior unethical but I have to believe it is illegal too. Why is it any different when we're talking about a college instead of a retail shop?


The Center would like faculty to teach ethics in the classroom.
"Each classroom becomes a laboratory of the process of decision making, and of critically examining choices in the workplace, interpersonal relationships, and personal lives. Teachers can play an important role in assisting students to view ethical choices as a vital part of their future lives, both as professionals and in their daily living."
My discipline is Computer Science so I can't hide behind a veil of ignornace when students ask me about this issue. Sometimes I wish I could.

I'd like to know how I can teach ethics under these circumstances without acknowledging the unethical aspects of my school's policies and administration decisions. Any ideas?

I raise this issue at my own peril. Please realize I do so out of sincere concern for my institution, students, and profession and in the hope that others will closely examine the ethics of their policy decisions.

If the decision makers at my school read this please reconsider. It's not to late to do the right thing.


Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar

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