Table of Contents

Situations Related to Ethical Principles

1. Fulfilling the letter or the spirit of the law?

2. Ensuring diverse points of view

3. Putting a square peg in a round hole

4. Protecting an individual's right to privacy

5. Ethical decisions in instructional media selection

6. Computers: Issues of health and safety

7. Adopting and promoting new ideas

8. A clash of cultures

9. Harassment, bias, and discrimination

10. Whose views? Yours or your institutions?

11. All the facts, please

12. Competing with your employer

13. Handling gifts, gratuitites, and favors

14. Engaging in fair and equitable practices with vendors

15. Greasing the squeaky wheel

16. Influencing your colleagues

17. Exploiting professional affiliations

18. Helping one another

19. Is honesty the best answer?

20. An ethical approach to doing business

21. Fair assignment of responsibility

22. Facing new copyright challenges

23. When a colleague is wrong

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

The Situation
Professor Alice Hickman returned to her office late in the afternoon. She sighed as she looked at the stack of telephone messages. Leafing through them quickly, she checked to see if there were any matters that needed her immediate attention. It had been a long, stressful day and she was tired and eager to leave for home. However, one message caused her to pause, sit down, and reflect for a moment.

The call was from the chair of a highly respected instructional technology graduate program at a well-known university. One of Professor Hickman's recent doctoral graduates, John Wilson, had "made the final cut" in a search for a faculty position. The message was a request that Dr. Hickman call to discuss John's qualifications for the position.

Dr. Hickman's reactions were mixed. On the one hand, she was thrilled that one of her advisees was being considered for a position in such a highly respected program. For an instant she even envisioned the congratulations that she would receive from her colleagues for placing one of her graduates in such a prestigious position. On the other hand, she began to consider John's strengths and weaknesses in relation to the nature of the program in the university to which he had applied.

John was a pleasant, personable, outgoing individual. He was an excellent teacher. Undergraduates who John taught as a teaching assistant were unanimous in their praise of him and were well prepared for subsequent courses in their programs. On the other hand, John had little interest in research and had considerable difficulty putting his thoughts and ideas in writing. Yes, he had completed an acceptable thesis. However, Alice shook her head as she thought back over the many hours that she had spent with him not only in conducting his research but also in the writing process. Knowing John's engaging personality, she was sure that he would present himself well in an interview and would have a good chance of being offered the appointment. However, knowing the "publish or perish" demands of the university to which he was applying, she seriously doubted that he had either the interest or ability to do some of the things necessary to be successful in the tenure and promotion process.

Alice forgot her weariness and the stress of the day as she struggled with what she should say when she returned the call.


The AECT Code of Ethics—Section 3, Principle 5
In fulfilling obligations to the profession, the member shall present honestly personal professional qualifications and the professional qualifications and evaluations of colleagues.

Alice Hickman did not take long to come to the conclusion that everyone would benefit by her being as direct and honest as possible. The university to which John applied would have accurate information upon which to make a judgment. John, if hired, would accept a position where his employer had full knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses and could assume that position without facing unrealistic expectations. If not hired, he would be spared the trauma of not being successful in a position in which he did not fit and would, instead, have an opportunity to enjoy another position that is more compatible with his talents and potential. For Alice Hickman, full honesty would help establish a reputation for integrity that colleagues in other institutions will respect and honor when they consider her students for employment in the years to come.

Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University

Updated January 21, 2008
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