2010 Ethics Winner
Read the "ethical dilemma" Kevin responded to with his winning essay.
Excellence through Ethics Essay Contest
Winning essay by Kevin Shutzberg, from Atlanta, Georgia
Beth cannot remain silent and take the grade on the physics test, because it would be unethical and unfair to other students. Beth must approach the teacher and explain the situation: She participated in a collaborative study group but was unsure of its permissibility by her school’s honor code. She then practiced testing material, which Jane claimed to be an old exam of her father’s. However, this test was identical to the one given in class.
Because Jane was directly responsible for promoting unethical activity and cheating, Beth must report Jane to the teacher and prepare to face the consequences. Beth should discuss with the teacher the permissibility of study groups, as they can supplement the in-class learning experience but can provide an unfair advantage if facilitated improperly. Beth should preserve the anonymity of the other members, as neither they nor she are necessarily culpable in intentional cheating. Beth should suggest that a re-test be given in light of the integrity of the previous test being compromised. Beth must state clearly that she cannot accept her grade for the test because she had an unfair advantage over others in the class.
While it may not be easy, it is actually in Beth’s best interest to act ethically and face the reality of the situation. Although she may encounter some degree of social alienation for exposing the group and parental admonishment for her actions at the party, Beth must realize that it is more important for her to preserve her character, integrity and self-image as an honest, ethical, and moral individual. While she may tarnish her relationship with Jane, would Beth truly benefit from a friendship built on such a tenuous foundation of deceit, blackmail and moral impropriety? Rather, Beth will gain the respect of others who share her virtue and moral fiber.
Moreover, it is to everyone’s advantage if cheating is neither allowed nor successful – students will be forced to genuinely learn the material, and the results of tests will accurately reflect the accomplishment of the students. Rules are only as strong as they are enforced, and Jane’s punishment should serve as an example to preclude her, and others, from cheating again. Everybody has an ethical duty to prevent cheating: the less cheating there is, the more “fair” the playing field will be.
Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short,” documents the “story of mass delusion” and questionable ethics that plummeted our economy into recession. “The incentives for people on Wall Street got so screwed up, that the people who worked there became blinded…and behaved in ways that were antithetical to their own long-term interests.” Rating agencies competed unethically for the patronage of investment firms by providing AAA ratings to high-risk securities in exchange for their fees. Beth could similarly be blinded in her desire for friendship, popularity, and good grades by capitulating to the temptation of short-term gains; however, cheating would not only be unethical, it would also be antithetical to her own long-term interests and detrimental to her character.
2010 Ethics Dilemma
2010 Excellence through Ethics Essay Contest
“It Was Easier Being Unpopular”
Beth recently moved to a new high school, and has had a hard time adjusting to the change. She has not made any friends; in fact, many girls are bullying her, mocking how she dresses, and laughing at her accent. One afternoon a couple weeks after moving to her new school, while volunteering at a soup kitchen, Beth meets Jane, who is also doing her service project there. Jane goes to school with Beth and happens to be very popular and smart. Over the course of the afternoon, the two girls talk at length and learn that they actually have many common interests and become friends.
The next day, Beth sees that Jane has invited her to join a Facebook group comprised of other students at school who are not only popular, but also very smart and dedicated to doing well in school. For the first time, Beth looks forward to going to school, as being part of this group gives her a newfound popularity, and the girls that used to bully her now leave her alone. Beth and her new friends use their Facebook group not only to socialize, but also to collaborate on schoolwork and pass study tips and advice for various classes. Beth is thrilled to be part of the group. After several weeks, Beth sees that being part of the group certainly has its advantages. Not only is she now popular, but also her grades are better than ever due to the ability to collaborate with others in the social networking group.
Yet despite this pleasant turn of events, Beth is beginning to have some qualms about being a member of this Facebook group. She is starting to worry that the study collaboration and exam information they all share may border on cheating. Beth sends a text message to Jane to raise this concern. Jane does not address Beth’s concern, but tells her in no uncertain terms that Beth is not to tell anyone about the group. This makes her feel even more concerned. For the moment, Beth has chosen not to question the matter further and continued to stay in the group.
A few weeks later and several days before her next physics test, Beth goes to the Facebook group looking for study advice. While in one of the forums, she sees that Jane, whose father also happens to be a physics teacher, has posted a copy she claimed was an old test her father once gave. Beth studied hard and took the practice test several times until she felt well prepared for the exam. On the day of the exam Beth went into the exam very confidently. Yet strangely, as Beth began to take the physics test, she realized that test she was taking was exactly the same as the practice test Jane had posted on Facebook earlier in the week. Unsure what to do, Beth completed the test and turned it in. After the test, Beth sends Jane a private text saying she is uneasy with the situation, and Jane responds that she had no idea why Beth is so worried. She also responded aggressively, saying to Beth “You’ll be making a big mistake if you tell anyone about this!” Jane also reminds Beth she has a compromising picture of her from a recent party where underage drinking was going on, and threatens to kick Beth out of the group and expose her.
What should Beth do and why?