My class in business ethics was discussing a case in which Cecily Sandwich, an engineer, told her manager that she would not obey his order to revise certain risk assessments as he indicated because the result would be misleading and therefore doing as ordered would be unethical. I asked, “What should the manager do?” A student in the back volunteered, “This broad is here to do what she's told. If she won't do that, I'd fire her, no questions asked.” Though I couldn't tell whether any woman in the class took offense at the word “broad, ” I had no doubt that I should do something in response to the student's answer. But what?
Unlike the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (see Chapter 2), my university does not have a “speech code.” But even if it did, the student's answer would, I think, be exempt from discipline: his answer was “an opinion…germane to the subject matter.” 1 And even if it were not technically exempt, I would not report it for discipline. Reporting it would threaten the trust between teacher and students upon which case discussion depends. Students worried that a careless word in class will get them into trouble tend to maintain a nervous silence or, forced to speak, to answer without saying much. Reporting the student would put the university's secondary interest in enforcing its rules through settled procedures ahead of its primary interest in maintaining a good educational environment for all students.
There was, I think, a time when deciding how to respond to the student's answer would automatically have been treated as a question of pedagogy (the student having failed to draw on an assignment concerned with the role of professional ethics in business) or of politeness (“broad” not being a word for the classroom, certainly not for a classroom in which some of the students are women). Today, however, the question is more likely to be assigned