Kevin Keen of Longwood, Fla., will use his $5,000 scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida. Keen's essay was among nearly 100 submitted for the contest and was selected by JA's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ethics, comprised of corporate ethics officers and college professors. "It will help finance my undergraduate education and enable me to focus on my studies," says Keen.
Read the "ethical dilemma" Kevin responded to with his winning essay.
Excellence through Ethics Essay Contest
Winning essay by Kevin Keen of Longwood, Fla.
Ethics is the common thread that passes through the fabric of American business and engenders trust both in the American system of business and its relative reliability as an investment platform over all others in the world. As a result, business ethics is not merely an abstraction, but a practical tool that must be wielded in a manner that reflects its central importance. Whether massive as were the issues of Enron, or minute as in the present hypothetical, consistent and objective application is the cornerstone of meaningful business ethics.
Assuming that the rules restricting the use of university resources for commercial gain were both clear and unambiguous, Roland was obligated to adhere to such rules regardless of his otherwise stellar performance or helpful utility.
The professor has an obligation to enforce the rules while concurrently balancing the remedy to the harm. Therefore, the professor should publicly point out the infraction and craft a punishment which deters such misdeeds in the future while not excessively harming Roland’s future, particularly in his chosen field. Specifically, the professor should first ensure that Roland understands the err in his ways and the potential impact his actions as a leader among his peers could have on their future behavior. Next, the professor should afford Roland the opportunity to offer his own restitution and corrective action that would address the need for punishment, but at the same time, be instructive to others.
At a minimum, the professor should do the following. First, the economic gains earned using university assets should be disgorged to the school, since this remedy goes to the heart of the prohibition in the rule. Second, the professor should have Roland draft an open letter of apology to the department, the university, and his fellow students. In this way, the admission of guilt and admonition against future occurrences of this violation would serve as an example to others. Third, the professor should instruct Roland to give an introductory talk to incoming classes about the importance of the rule in particular and business ethics in general.
Thus, this recommended plan of action addresses the central importance of consistently applying the rule of ethics even under circumstances that might otherwise suggest more latitude and less stringent enforcement. By involving Roland in the formulation of his own remedial action, the professor can fulfill more than just the enforcement obligation he has to the rules. The professor can make a permanent impression upon Roland, who appears to be destined for prominence in his field. Here, more could be accomplished with a less punitive remedy that is instructive not only to the offender, but to his peers and successors as well.
Beyond the local impact of the proposed course of action is the long-term and cascading effect on awareness of business ethics. Perhaps that locally produced fabric might be beneficially incorporated into the global garments of business, with the golden thread of ethics intact.
2007 Excellence through Ethics Essay Contest Scenario
Roland is a top student among sophomore Computer Science students at a local university. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, and has a straight A average in college so far. As a result, he has been offered and has accepted a position as an undergraduate teaching assistant for an Information Networks class. Roland thinks this is a great job, because using and working on the Internet is one of his favorite activities, and he loves to share his constantly-expanding skills with other students.
When he's not answering questions or giving demos or other help, Roland works on his own projects, and has developed a number of personal applications. The faculty are aware of his personal development projects and have encouraged them, recognizing that the department is already benefiting from the "free" work he has done. Roland simply enjoys playing around and knows he is acquiring skills that will be useful to him when he graduates and looks for a job.
Roland's personal projects have also caught the eye of others around the world. As a result, he has begun receiving offers from companies to do Web development projects. At first he declined, thinking he did not have the time, and that his first responsibility was to his studies and to his job. But as the semester wore on, the students became competent and needed little help, so he often found himself with time on his hands while in the lab. Eventually, he decided to start accepting these offers, as long as they were short-term, e.g., could be done in 4-5 hours, and were accepted "as is" with no maintenance commitment. The companies were eager for quick results, and he was able to charge $50/hour for these projects. By the end of the semester, Roland was bringing in an extra $50-$100 a week through his little side projects.
At times Roland wondered whether he should be doing this: after all, he was being paid to work as a teaching assistant, and he was using university equipment and network connections. But he figured that he was learning more about the technology through these projects, which surely was a benefit to the department; he was also careful to put his duties, answering questions and so on, ahead of any commercial development. And besides, the equipment and network connections were just sitting there, why not put them to good use? As a student putting himself through college, the bit of extra income was really helping him out.
Eventually Roland's activities came to the attention of his course supervisor. The professor is torn: Roland is an excellent student, is well-regarded by faculty and peers alike, does his job well and is in general a great contributor to the department. However, he is clearly violating department policy on use of equipment, software and so on for commercial gain.
Should the professor take any action against Roland? And if so, what type of action should it be?