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Writing Across the Curriculum

DOCUMENT 3 – Cases

Prepare responses to either case 1 or case 2.

After reading the following passages taken from Terry Cooper's text, please consider Cases A and B on the following pages.

According to this author,

sometimes as administrators we experience conflicts in responsibility involving situations where our own personal interests are at odds with our obligations as a public official or our professional values. There may be combinations of conflicting roles and tensions between sources of authority, but more typically these occasions simply present us with an opportunity to use our public office for the sake of our private gain or to the private gain of our friends or relatives. They represent conflicts between the public role and self-interest, and between objective responsibility and the possibility of personal gain or advantage. (p. 129)

In these situations,

we are dealing with something broader than the legal definition of conflict of interest. In this sense “interest” includes, as Michael Davis (1982, p.23) suggests, “all those influences, loyalties, concerns, emotions, or the like” that can make competent judgment “less reliable than it might otherwise be”. Conflicts of interest involve collisions between these various kinds of influences and the interests of the public we serve. (p. 130)

The ethical problem presented by these conflicts is that our fiduciary role as trustees of public interest may be jeopardized by a loss of trust in our professional judgment. If some private personal interest is able to influence our reason and conduct, we may serve it rather than the interests of the citizenry, or at least we may be perceived as doing so. Our judgment may be impaired in this way or may appear to be; either will call into question our trustworthiness as representatives of the public interest. (p. 130)

Cooper, Terry. (2006). Conflicts of Responsibility: The Ethical Dilemma (Ch. 5, p. 106-144). The Responsible Administrator. An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role. 5 th Ed. San Francisco , CA : Jossey-Bass.

Davis, Michael. (1982). Conflict of Interest. Business and Professional Ethics Journal. 1 (4): 17-17.

Case A:

You are the director of a unit within a federal regulatory agency that is charged with monitoring the use of harmful commercial chemicals. Linda, a junior project manager under your supervision, is responsible for studying a broad-spectrum insecticide used in agriculture by small grain farmers, large truck gardeners, and cotton farmers and in the livestock industry as an animal spray. She has been assigned to determine whether this product should be removed from the market.

At a party Linda met a man named George, who she later learned was the Washington representative for the insecticide manufacturer. After several dates with George she became rather fond of him and wanted to pursue the relationship. However, Linda realized that her professional roles created a potential conflict of interest for her and she decided to tell you about the situation. She intended to continue seeing George. She said: she considered herself mature enough to maintain a separation between her professional and private lives. Linda insisted that her feelings for George would not influence her judgment in any way; in fact, she and George never even discussed the chemical in question.

Questions to consider as you analyze this case:

  1. Has Linda done anything that represents a breach of professional ethics?
  2. What is your responsibility, as director of this unit?
  3. Is it more important to avoid even the appearance of unethical conduct in your organization, or to support an employee's right to freedom in her private life?
  4. Should Linda be trusted until her behavior demonstrated otherwise?
  5. What are your alternatives?

Case B:

A soil bacterium common to warm climates can sometimes be found in ground waters of such areas. It seldom causes disease in humans, but when it does the infection is very severe. The bacterium enters the body through an open wound and produces infections resulting in mortality rate of 75 percent.

You are a department manager for a public utility district that produces electricity through steam driven turbines. The department has constructed a lake for this purpose, which is also open to the public for recreational use. Recently a man was injured in a boating accident that severely lacerated his legs. He developed gangrene and after a double amputation, eventually died.

A technician in your department suspected that the man may have contracted the bacterial infection and decided to run tests. He reported that the bacterium is indeed in evidence throughout the lake and, although no one can be certain without an autopsy, he believes it was the cause of death.

Questions to consider as you analyze this case:

  1. Has the department committed an unethical act by not monitoring the quality of the water more carefully?
  2. Does it have a moral obligation to inform the public health authorities, the victim's family, or the general public?
  3. What is your responsibility to your organization in the face of possible litigation and public outcry?
  4. What is your responsibility to those who have used the lake for recreation and those who may use it in future?
  5. How should the department define its obligations to society?
  6. Does it owe something to the deceased man's family and to others who may use the lake?
  7. Should it merely try to rid the lake of the bacterium and leave it open to use?




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