Ethical Conundrums Revisited

More About Ethics in Education – Part I

“Food for Thought”

Facing Those Misconceptions, Dilemmas, and Problems in Daily Professional Decision-Making

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As I travel around Pennsylvania presenting sessions on “Ethics for Music Educators” at state conferences, regional professional development workshops, and collegiate music education seminars, as well as writing articles for PMEA News and hosting webinars, I seemed to have stirred up a lot of questions (which is GREAT!) and some confusion (not so good). This “hot topic” has become a lot like “peeling an onion.”

After discovering that few music or other subject area teachers have had formalized ethics training (pre-service or in-service), in fact most never even seeing their state’s “code of ethical conduct,” I feel like this is more complicated than it appears to be. Indeed, here and in other blog-posts, I am endeavoring to “peel the onion” – explore the problem one layer (step) at a time, to thoroughly understand what’s causing the conflict.

As a prerequisite, if you have not read my other articles on ethics from this website, please review the following:

 

A Closer Look at the Definitions

Ethics: moral principles that controls a person’s behavior.

Conundrum: a difficult problem or situation

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An ethical conundrum is a problem that causes one to make a decision based on their personal values. It may question an individual’s beliefs of what is right and wrong. Ethical conundrums can range from simple everyday problems to serious illegal infractions.

What is the difference between an ethical conundrum and a dilemma? Thanks to https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-conundrum-and-dilemma-Can-you-give-example-with-respect-to-a-context, we have a little more clarity (or barring that, at least a lot more detail to consider):

“Remember this phrase — on the horns of a dilemma.”

“A dilemma… [by definition] is a difficult choice between two (and only two) things or courses of action (as in two horns), both of which have some kind of undesirable consequences.”

“A choice of two things isn’t a dilemma — it may be a conundrum. A choice of one good thing and one bad isn’t a dilemma. A choice of two bad things is a dilemma.”

“A conundrum is about one thing — it’s just a difficult or confusing problem, and nearly always in the sense of having no possible solution or answer, or it’s an unbelievably hard challenge to produce the solution or answer. In short, a riddle.”

– Robert Charles Lee

These examples may be helpful, and were provided on the Quora website:

Dilemmas:

  • “We’re stuck in this dilemma of either jumping into shark-infested waters, or staying on board the burning ship and be burned alive.”
  • The proverb “Die if you do, die if you don’t.”

The classic conundrum facing thousands of students everywhere every year is which college to pick (the ‘one’ thing). College No. 1 has a better faculty but not fun. College No. 2 has a reputation of being more enjoyable and a more socially active student body. College No. 3 has average faculty but always get overseas placements. Which college is better for your future happiness?

A conundrum that resembles a dilemma: Should I work abroad alone for high pay? Or should I stay locally with my family for average pay?

A conundrum that feels like a dilemma: Do I save my mother or my children?

How about dealing with the sometimes controversial terms ethics vs. morality? This is from https://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals:

Ethics vs. Morals

“One professional example of ethics conflicting with morals is the work of a defense attorney. A lawyer’s morals may tell her that murder is reprehensible and that murderers should be punished, but her ethics as a professional lawyer require her to defend her client to the best of her abilities, even if she knows that the client is guilty.”

“Another example can be found in the medical field. In most parts of the world, a doctor may not euthanize a patient, even at the patient’s request, as per ethical standards for health professionals. However, the same doctor may personally believe in a patient’s right to die, as per the doctor’s own morality.”

– Diffen.com

 

Sample Situations in Daily Life

“A tree falls in the forest, is there sound?” Apply that “open-ended” philosophical approach to the ethics question, “If you find a $100 bill on the sidewalk and no one is around, what should you do?”

There are a myriad of real-life scenarios from numerous sources that may provide more insight in the adoption of ethical and moral “best practices.”

  • “Disabled placard abuse is a big problem in downtown San Diego. Handicap parking places are occasionally abused by people who do not possess a disability. These people typically use a family member’s handicap placards, for their own benefit. This leaves no accessible parking places for the people who truly need them. Would you?”
  • “Involving limited space and sold-out reservations, is it ethical for a hotel to charge someone for late cancellation (family emergency) in the case when no income would be lost because the room is easily sold to another hotel guest?”

 

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Jeffrey Selgin of RealSimple.com released a thought-provoking article, “10 Ethical Questions – Answered” on the CNN news feed website: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/wayoflife/03/10/rs.10.ethical.questions/index.html.

“Stealing is a no-no; cheating is bad. When it comes to moral quandaries, the thou shalt-nots are no-brainers.”

“The truly tough dilemmas are those small, more ambiguous ones that you may stumble upon anytime, anywhere.”

“The ethical decisions we confront daily are toughest when there’s a significant downside to making the ‘correct’ choice — or when it’s unclear what that choice is. Here’s how to identify the right thing to do; it’s up to you to do it.”

Selgin offers an interpretation of the morality of these sample questions for day-to-day reflection:

  1. If something at a yard sale is far more valuable than the posted price, do I have to let the seller know?
  2. Is it considered stealing to take pens from a bank? What about extra napkins from a fast-food restaurant?
  3. If a charity sends me free address labels and I don’t make a contribution, is it OK to use them?
  4. Is it unfair to move into better (open) seats at a sporting event or a concert?
  5. My boss gave me credit for a project on which a colleague did most of the work. Should I accept the praise?
  6. If someone tells an offensive joke, is it my responsibility to speak up about it?

 

Ethical Conundrums in the Professions

We will start start with a perspective from the science profession, also providing a good summary of the “fiduciary” and moral responsibilities of the medical and law professions:  (https://helix.northwestern.edu/blog/2014/07/ethical-conundrums).

“Medical students, before commencing their duties as compassionate caregivers, take the Hippocratic oath, promising to always treat the ill to the best of their ability and to make decisions that are in the best interest of their patients.”

“Law students, before beginning their duties as defenders of the world, take an oath of professionalism, promising to honor and advocate for the community with integrity and cooperation towards others.”

“Now, let’s talk about scientists, the lab-coat wearing, world-saving breed of professionals, most commonly seen in their natural habitat surrounding long-standing rows of benches usually filled with biological and chemical substances that they use to save lives. Where is their oath?”

– Khyati Meghani

 

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Responsible for discovering drugs or other therapies that could stop us from aging,  finding the cure for cancer or the common cold, or for inventing miniaturized medical devices that could track the health of vital organs from within the blood stream, medical scientists are entrusted with our lives and must face “awesome” ethical obligations.

“Let’s take a time tour starting in the 1800’s. Meet, Alfred Nobel – a chemist and the inventor of dynamite, after whom the very famous Nobel Prize is named. Although his intention in developing dynamite was to create something more stable than nitroglycerine, and even though he is not responsible for killing millions around the world, he is still accountable for creating the invention that did. But, it is important to mention here that Nobel did establish the Nobel Foundation, which is funded by the wealth that he accumulated during his lifetime.”

“Next, meet Shiro Ishii, a microbiologist who had no ethical conscience while unleashing deadly pathogens on thousands of human research subjects under the delusional idea of creating a bacteriological weapons program.”

– Khyati Meghani

In his blog-post, “Ethical Conundrums,”  Khyati Meghani could give us countless other examples where scientists have conducted unethical research either for their love of science or under the delusion that they were helping mankind.

Why don’t we expect all professionals who deal closely with children (especially teachers) to take an oath to adhere to the highest standards of ethics and personal morality? It has always bothered me that educators are the only “fiduciary” whose charges are a “captive audience” and patently uninformed about the subject with little initial “ethics training” or “refresher” workshops. Even my investment counselor has to master (usually monthly) online course work on ethical practices.

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In one published study of educator scenarios (Shapira-Lishchinsky, O., Teachers’ critical incidents: Ethical dilemmas in teaching practice, Teaching and Teacher Education 2010, doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.11.003), the aim was to “explore ethical dilemmas in critical incidents and the emerged responses that these incidents elicit.”

“Teachers deal with many ethical problems in their practice. They encounter issues such as inappropriate allocation of resources, situations in which pupils are being discussed inappropriately, and irresponsible colleagues. When teachers’ sense of proper action is constrained by complex factors in educational practice and decisions are made and carried out contrary to the ‘right course,’ critical incidents which involve ethical conflict and moral distress result.”

– O. Shapira-Lishchinsky

Five main categories of 50 critical incidents were reviewed:

1. Caring climate versus formal climate.
2. Distributive justice versus school standards.
3. Confidentiality versus school rules.
4. Loyalty to colleagues versus school norms
5. Family agenda versus educational standards

For examples of these incidents, read the entire research study at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8bbd/62c820d76cfaa35181319dcc3906790a4f00.pdf.

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I was also happy to run across the excellent online article “Ethics in the Classroom” by Leah Shafer from the Usable Knowledge blog-site of the Harvard Graduate School of Education: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/04/ethics-classroom.

“Ethical dilemmas abound in education. Should middle school teachers let a failing eighth-grade student graduate, knowing that if she’s held back, she’ll likely drop out? Should a private school principal condone inflated grades? Should an urban district pander to white, middle-class families — at the expense of poor, minority families — in order to boost the achievement of all schools?”

“Teachers, principals, superintendents, and education policymakers face questions such as these every day. And for many, amid the tangle of conflicting needs, disparate perspectives, and frustration over circumstances, lies the worry that discussing an ethical dilemma with colleagues will implicate you as not knowing how to make the right choice — or as already having made the wrong one.”

– Leah Shafer

Research compiled by educational philosopher Meira Levinson and doctoral student Jacob Fay take up these challenges in their new book Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries (http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/dilemmas-of-educational-ethics). “In detailing the moral predicaments that arise in schools, the researchers also provide a framework for educators to discuss their own dilemmas with colleagues, opening the door to making these conversations more common.”

Their book offers “six detailed case studies of common educational dilemmas, each accompanied by commentaries of varying viewpoints.”

“Case studies offer a safe way for educators to begin recognizing and discussing ethical dilemmas they may face in their own work, since no real person is implicated. ‘We hope that by reading and talking about the cases and commentaries, professional communities can become more practiced and comfortable in having these sorts of discussions, so that when their own particular dilemmas arise, they have the cases and a language to be able to speak about what it is they’re struggling with in their own practice,’ says Fay.”

– Leah Shafer

 

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Referencing the National Education Association’s Code of Ethics (http://www.nea.org/home/30442.htm), and the Council for Exceptional Children’s Ethical Principles and Professional Practice Standards for Special Educators (https://www.cec.sped.org/Standards/Ethical-Principles-and-Practice-Standards), RedOrbit posted an outstanding blog “Teachers’ Ethical Dilemmas – What Would You Do?” written by Jessica L Bucholz, Cassandra L Keller, and Michael P. Brady: https://www.redorbit.com/news/education/1141680/teachers_ethical_dilemmas_what_would_you_do/.

“What is considered ethical often comes down to determining what is in the best interest of the student. ‘Behaving ethically is more than a matter of following the rules or not breaking the law-it means acting in a way that promotes the learning and growth of students and helps them realize their potential’ (Parkay, 2004, p. 195). When professionals or students engage in unethical behavior, it can damage a good student-teacher relationship. Unethical behavior can ruin trust and respect between teachers and their colleagues. In extreme situations unethical behavior can result in a teacher losing his or her teaching position and/or certification. Resolving ethical dilemmas requires difficult educational decisions that do not always have a clear-cut ‘right’ answer.

Here we present several short vignettes of ethical dilemmas that both veteran and novice teachers have faced. We then ask you to consider the possible solutions for these examples and ask you what you would do if faced with a similar situation. Finally, we analyze each vignette using either the NEA’s or CEC’s code of ethics, identify ethical indicators that cover the situation, and propose a solution for each dilemma based on the code.”

– Jessica L Bucholz, Cassandra L Keller, and Michael P. Brady

Interesting classroom ethical scenarios are offered with recommended solutions. These six “mock dilemmas” are discussed in detail:

  • Possible learning disability
  • Assessment conflict
  • Medication
  • Standardized tests
  • Petty behavior
  • Religion

 

More to Come

From politicians to movie stars, CEOs to the companies they lead, and especially heinous – teachers, coaches, and other school personnel, ethical misconducts are being uncovered and aired daily in the news. This is too important not to sponsor a frank discussion on ethical standards applied to professional decision-making.

For Part II of this series “Ethical Conundrums Revisited,” we will rehash a few more modern-day scenarios in the school music education workplace, prod you to respond “what would you do?” (at least in your mind) to address these problems, and even explore a few areas you may not think are true “ethical issues.” What are your views on…

  • Privacy protection versus “open door” meetings with students?
  • Acceptance of congratulatory “musical hugs” versus the practice of avoiding all physical contact from students?
  • Refusal of gifts from music industry vendors versus acceptance of “free” offers or dinner meetings?
  • Use of social media networks to support student learning versus the risk of crossing the student/teacher boundary with inappropriate informal communications?
  • The sharing of anecdotes or details of an incident that occurred during a class or school activity with family members or colleagues?
  • The sharing of contact information with outside organizations or businesses?
  • Identification of individuals (especially the names of students), geographical locations, or specific information about your school district on social media?
  • Certification of inaccurate or exaggerated reports, such as “fudging” data on time-in and time-out attendance logins?
  • The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of speech” rights versus the practice of maligning school administrators or their decisions in public?
  • The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of expression” rights in having tattoos, body piercings, or wearing certain fad or provocative clothing versus compliance to school policies and norms?

 

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “meadow” by geralt, “ethics” by 3dman_eu, “ethics” by Tumisu, “scientist” by luvqs, “poses” by NDE, “boys” by White77, and “yes” by geralt.

 

Business Ethics

 

 

Ethics for Job Seekers

Employment Etiquette & Standards of Morality

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do. – Potter Stewart from http://www.brainyquote.com

Definitions

Google defines ETHICS as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.”

For more detail and an analysis of the “essential questions” on ETHICS, check out the blog “What is Ethics?” from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/what-is-ethics/.

From another perspective, according to Investopedia, “BUSINESS ETHICS is the study of proper business policies and practices regarding potentially controversial issues, such as corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, corporate social responsibility and fiduciary responsibilities.” The full article can be read at http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/business-ethics.asp.

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Declining Standards of Behavior?

Jean Twenge, the author of the 2006 book Generation Me, considers Millennials (born between 1977 and 1994), along with younger members of Generation X, to be part of what she calls “Generation Me,” possessing a preponderance of the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also a strong sense of entitlement and narcissism. Wikipedia identifies the (older) “Me” generation in the United States, referring to “the baby boomer generation and the self-involved qualities that some people associated with it.”

According to Psychology Today in a blog-post The Truth About Lying by Allison Kornet (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199705/the-truth-about-lying), “Deception is rampant—and sometimes we tell the biggest lies to those we love most.”

If, as the cliché has it, the 1980s was the decade of greed, then the quintessential sin of the 1990s might just have been lying. After all, think of the accusations of deceit leveled at politicians like Bob Packwood, Marion Barry, Dan Rostenkowski, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton.

Regardless of these labels of societal trends, “generalizations about the generations,” and reflections on current social values and conscience in the media, how do you come to terms with the recent headlines of inconsistent (or “inconvenient”) ethics and morality?

  • State-sponsored doping of Russian athletes
  • Volkswagen emission cheating
  • Students saying, “If we don’t get caught” or “If they don’t find out,” it’s OK.
  • The rise of online plagiarism-checking programs such as turnitin.com.
  • The cynicism about “ethics in advertising: do we expect lies?”
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And yet, some of us still recite the Boy Scouts oath (“honesty”), “swear to tell the truth” (on a bible) in a court of law, and strive to maintain an atmosphere of honesty in the workplace (see http://www.businessinsider.com/3-essential-rules-to-workplace-honesty-2013-1  and http://smallbusiness.chron.com/create-atmosphere-honesty-workplace-10098.html).

So, are we “losing” our moral compass? Does “our word” mean anything? Do we take the easy way out and “fake a little” here and “wink a little” there? Is it affecting the way we interact with each other, in educational institutions, the marketplace, family life, and even presenting ourselves to be hired for a job?

Blame it on upbringing? Past experience? Perhaps it is safe to say one’s personal judgment may be affected by ethics. If a member of your family has a handicap parking placard, is it ever used when the handicapped individual is not riding in the car? In terms of judgment and feelings of entitlement, it is probably ill-advised to bring up anything to do with driving… fighting over parking places, cutting off someone, tooting horns at slow drivers, etc. Besides, who actually ever comes to a complete stop at a stop sign?

In the pre-employment planning stages, it is essential for you to make a honest personal and professional assessment, prepare to represent yourself accurately at interviews and on your resume and  e-portfolio, and model ethical personal branding. I would agree that “you cannot ‘fib’ and claim you are a ‘master’ of everything,” but if you are certified to teach music in grades K-12, not just band, or general music, or choir, or strings… you should state your proficiency to teach “the whole kit and caboodle.” At employment screenings, it’s more important to show you have learned the necessary 21st Century skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communications, creativity, and flexibility/adaptability… rather than whether you can play Paganini on the violin, sing a high “A,” improvise modern jazz styles, or piano accompany a musical production.

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Stretching Things a Bit?

The concept of a “stretched resume” is detailed online by “Employee’s Ethics: Getting a Job, Getting a Promotion, Leaving,” Chapter 6 from the book Business Ethics. The author tells the true story of Robert Irvine, who used to host the Food Network’s popular Dinner: Impossible. He was fired when he was caught “lying” or providing gross exaggerations on his resume. You should read the interesting full account at this site: http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/business-ethics/s10-employee-s-ethics-getting-a-jo.html.

The kind of resume misrepresentations are categorized as the following:

  • False credentials
  • False experience
  • Embellished experience
  • False chronology
  • False references

The best quote from this reference suggests that the outcome of resume misrepresentation is not worth the chances you would take if/when you are caught:

Ethical egoism means your moral responsibility is to act in your own interest no matter what that may require. This provides a license for outright résumé invention… But, as is always the case with egoism, the question must be asked whether job seekers really serve their own interests when they claim things that may later be revealed to be false or when they land jobs they later won’t be able to perform because their qualifications were fake.

This source led me to the webpage http://fakeresume.com/ (aptly named) selling the book Fake Resume: The Machiavellian Guide to Getting a Job by Max Stirner (something I am not promoting!) You can peruse a segment of his work, “Five Reasons Why You Must Lie on Your Resume To Get a Job Today” at http://fakeresume.com/five-reasons-why-you-must-lie-on-your-resume.pdf. This excerpt is from his “Everyone Lies on Their Resume” section of his website:

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The firm Hire Right released some interesting statistics that show how rampant resume fraud is in the United States. The company’s numbers show that 80 percent of all resumes are misleading. They also show that 20 percent state fraudulent degrees and 30 percent show altered employment dates. As if those numbers are not shocking enough, 40 percent have inflated salary claims and 30 percent have inaccurate job descriptions. Furthermore, the study shows 25 percent of people listing companies that no longer exist, and 27 percent giving falsified references; and these are only the people they have caught!

Guides to Employment Ethics

Regardless of what others do or say they do, marketing exaggeration and even falsehoods will not be in your best interest.

Richard Fein, Director of Career Management, Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts-Amherst via Monstertrak.com wrote an excellent career guide on this subject: “Etiquette and Ethics in Your Job Search. What Are They and Why Should You Care?” Download the following to review the definitions, distinctions, and job search scenarios involving the terms “etiquette” and “ethics.” http://www.bu.edu/hospitality/files/pdf/ETIQUETTEANDETHICSINYOURJOBSEARCH1.pdf.

Another excellent resource is the “Job Search Ethics Brochure” from the University of Pennsylvania: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/files/Job_Search_Ethics_Brochure.pdf. In this thoughtful publication, additional terms are defined, such as “professional,” “integrity,” and “honor.”

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In addition, it should be “worth your while” to access some of the Franklin College’s “Helpful Handouts” under the Career Service section of their website: http://franklincollege.edu/student-life/career-services/students-alumni/helpful-handouts/. In particular, what stood out to me was their document “Job Search Ethics and Protocol,” which Assistant Dean of Students & Director of Career Services Kirk Bixler has graciously granted me permission to reprint below. (This is an excellent summary of many of the topics/tips we have posted at this site. Click on the “Marketing Professionalism” link to the right to read past blog-posts.)

  • Do NOT give into the temptation of carelessly completing an application. Do NOT make statements on an application like “see attached résumé.” Never leave spaces blank.
  • Apply for a job only if you have some realistic level of interest.
  • Absolute honesty on your résumé is imperative. Don’t overstate or understate. Don’t downplay your skills because you haven’t been featured in Business Week.
  • Request permission to use a person as a reference. Be prepared to explain to your reference what your job search plans are. Provide the reference with examples of qualities you possess. Offer a copy of your résumé. When interviewing, have your list of references on hand.
  • Don’t take advantage of an expense account when traveling for job interviews.
  • Show up for your interview. If you are visiting a person’s place of work, make sure your appearance, including mode of dress, is appropriate for that environment. You are not a student going to class. Consider yourself a professional trying to make a positive impression. How you present yourself is a partial reflection on the person with whom you are meeting.
  • Be a bit early for your appointment. Be mindful of the other person’s time. Come in prepared with questions & knowledge of the business.
  • Ask “How would you like to be addressed?” Be on the safe side; few people are offended by “Mister” or “Ms.” Be courteous to everyone you meet.
  • Everything you say must be true. On the other hand, you don’t need to say everything.
  • 25957630814_ee6ff87fe5_oYou may be asked to say something about another student or applicant. Speak only of your abilities & strengths. It is acceptable for an interviewer to ask you about other interviews, job offers & salary offers. You are not under an obligation to give a direct answer.
  • Be aware of illegal inquires. Employers may not ask, “How much alcohol do you drink?” “Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?” “What prescription drugs do you currently take?”
  • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank-you notes are a MUST in the job search process. They may be handwritten or typed. Address them to the person with whom you had the interview.
  • Be aware of drug screening requirements.
  • Call to inquire about your status in the employer’s hiring process. If a specific time has been communicated, wait until that time has passed before contacting the employer.
  • Let the employer be the first to mention salary. End it early if you are not interested. Let the employer know you are not interested in pursuing employment.
  • When offered the job, ask for time to think it over & ask for a formal offer letter.
  • You may receive one or more job offers you decide to reject. You should convey your decision to reject a job offer orally & in writing. The considerations here are speed & certainty of delivery. Call the person who signed your offer letter. Write a brief letter, also. Do both in a timely manner.
  • Only accept a job if you are really interested. Don’t settle. Once you accept a job offer, formally remove yourself from all other job searches. DO NOT continue looking.

These final bulleted items are echoed by another prestigious institution. “Ethical Internship and Job Search Policies” is posted on the University of Notre Dame’s Career Center webpage (http://careercenter.nd.edu/students/ethical-job-search-policies/):

When accepting an offer of full-time employment or an internship (either paid or unpaid), one must have every intention of honoring that commitment.  If a student accepts an offer of employment, admission to a graduate or professional school, or other post-graduate career opportunity, he/she must withdraw from the recruiting process immediately. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Not applying to future job postings.
  • Declining all future interview invitations.
  • Canceling any active applications.
  • Contacting all recruiters to inform them of your wish to be removed from the interviewing and recruitment process (this includes all scheduled interviews).

Ethics? It all boils down to two questions: “Who are you?” and “For what do you stand?” Besides the fear of “getting caught in lies” and being fired for misrepresentation (or doing an incompetent job because you did not have the qualities for which your employer was looking), it centers on “liking what you see” when you look at yourself in the mirror. Anyway, didn’t you mommy tell you your nose gets longer when you tell a fib?

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Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.  – Albert Schweitzer
from http://www.brainyquote.com
PKF
© 2016 Paul K. Fox