A Question of Ethics in a University Senate
Arvanites, Debra A., Stumpf, Stephen A., Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies
The primary subject matter of this case is the ethical use of power and peer pressure within a group of people with significantly different status - a university senate comprised of a provost, deans, administrative VPs, faculty members, and students. Secondary issues include how the same events can be experienced differently, leading to different assessments as to the ethical behavior of those involved. Case difficulty is 2 (sophomore). The case is designed to be taught in an introductory management or ethics course requiring from 50-75 minutes of class time and either no outside preparation, or about 20 minutes of pre-class preparation.
This case is about a University Senate meeting in which lobbying is done by the Chair of the Senate prior to the meeting. The Chair caucuses a group of student senators and pitches her views regarding an upcoming vote. As the Chair is a senior faculty member, she has power over the students - even though the ideology of the university senate in question is that all members are equal. During this caucus, the Chair asks for a show of support to vote down a motion - thereby making public among those present an expression of each person's intended vote. The Chair's use of power and status and her use of peer pressure among students are questions to be explored.
Ethical decision making is frequently learned through experiential means - short cases and role play exercises. It is often taught by providing multiple perspectives on an issue and generating confusion or ambiguity in the minds of the learners regarding their initial 'right' and 'wrong' views of a situation. It is not the clearly unethical situations that cause people to get into trouble. Most black and white situations are easy to identify. Rather, it is situations in between - the gray areas that are challenging and require discussion and dialogue. These more complex and sometimes confusing situations are reasons why faculty members provide students with ethical frameworks through which they might recognize their own values and then learn to make choices that are consistent with those values.
The case provides two points of view on the same situation and can be used to demonstrate different ethical frameworks, e.g., comparing the ethical philosophy of Hobbes (1958) to that of Kant (1959). Each view in the case below is by a different newcomer to the Senate - a new student senator and a new dean senator. The differences in their roles, perspectives, and how the caucus and outcome of the vote affects them are significant.
All should read the introductory section entitled: A University Senate. If your University has a Senate, you might share its charter and bylaws with the class in advance.
The Student Senator - Dean Senator sections can be used in multiple ways. One might choose to use only one or the other, but they are likely best used together. The Dean Senator case is designed to have students question the behavior of the Chair of the Senate. The Student Senator case complicates the initial thinking of the student with additional perspectives on the situation.
SMALL CLASS, UP TO 75 MINUTES OF CLASS TIME (NO OUTSIDE WORK)
In using the case, one option is to provide all students with the University Senate section and the Dean Senator section - allow time for all to read these twos sections individually. Next, ask students to break into small groups to discuss their opinions about the case and to develop their rationale. Opening questions might include:
1. If there is an ethical issue here, what is it?
The ethical issues include: (1) whether or not the Senate Chair misused her power or status, (2) whether or not the ill-preparedness of the dean was a breach of his ethical responsibilities, and (3) whether or not the student senators responded to the power or status differential of the Senate …
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Publication information: Article title: A Question of Ethics in a University Senate. Contributors: Arvanites, Debra A. - Author, Stumpf, Stephen A. - Author. Journal title: Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies. Volume: 13. Issue: 2 Publication date: March 1, 2007. Page number: 117+. © The DreamCatchers Group, LLC 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.