Topic from July 2004

How do you make ethical decisions? If you have an ethical advising issue to resolve, how do you do it? Do you ask for other advisers' opinions? How many opinions? What resources besides other advisers do you use? What factors do you weigh in the balance? How much time do you spend on the decision-making process? How do you finally decide? Can you cite a specific example of the process you went through? What's your response?

Your Responses

For many years I was uncertain as to why I made certain ethical decisions, so I approached my colleague Marc Lowenstein, who had taught ethics. Our conversations led to a variety of case studies, several workshops, and a NACADA Journal article (Spring 1993). All of the case studies we have used are situations that I had experienced in the office, but I did not understand the rationale behind my decisions.

What I learned was that, though circumstances change, there are several ethical principles that guide these decisions and that often compete with each other—that's why we have ethical dilemmas. Although I don't consciously review these principles in each and every dilemma I face, I do now understand what causes them. Briefly, these principles are: 1) concern for the consequences of my decisions—to others, to myself, to those who may be affected in the future, and all for the greater good; 2) treating everyone fairly—no one is privileged; 3) respecting others—their autonomy to make decisions and always telling them the truth; and 4) fidelity/loyalty—to students, to the institution, to the curriculum, to colleagues, etc.

The time I spend on making such decisions probably depends on how much time I have to make the decision. It's easy to procrastinate when confronted with these dilemmas, but sometimes I must act, so I do, and reflect on my ethical decision later.

-Tom Grites, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, July 7

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