Solving an Ethical Dilemma

The following is Assignment # 3 for PIDP 3260 Professional Practice. I am using a modified version of “Ethical Dilemma Scenarios 2021” Scenario 6.

The situation is fictional.

Narrative

During a meeting in a committee, I learn the confidential information that Robert’s department is going to be moved to a different campus in six months. I have worked with Robert for a number of years, and we have become friends. Based on where he lives to the other campus, Robert would have a two-hour commute to work and back.

Robert has a family with two young children, and he is highly successful in his current position. His department relies heavily on his expertise and experience.

On the weekend I happen to meet Robert at a local coffee shop and when we start chatting, he tells me about a job opportunity in a different department in our college that he has learned about. While he would be qualified for this other position, he asks me about my opinion because he has hesitated to apply because of his loyalty to his department.

Dilemma

While I consider myself Robert’s friend, I am also bound by the fact that the topics discussed in the committee are to be kept confidential. I could face serious consequences for myself if it were discovered that I used my knowledge about the department move before it was officially announced.

Framework

In this case, the value of “Care” guided my decision. Robert is my friend and I have empathy for his situation and his family’s needs.

Seven steps for ethical decision making.

  1. The values of friendship and care are in conflict with professional integrity and my obligations to my employer.
  2. My initial reaction to the dilemma is not to disclose the confidential information I have to Robert. When his interest in another position offered a possible solution for him, my empathy for him changed my decision.
  3. The rules of the committee are clear and leaking information could have consequences for my own position.
    1. Option A, guided by the value of professional principles of respect for institution and confidentiality (Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, n.d.), would be to listen to Roberts’ thoughts about changing departments and not comment on them. This would eliminate the risk to my professional integrity but if Robert were to decide to stay within his department, it could be detrimental to him and our friendship. Robert would find out that I knew about the department move before he made the decision.
    1. Option B, guided by the value of care (Noddings, 1988), would be to tell Robert about the confidential plans for the department move and to motivate him to apply for the new position.
  4. When I discussed this with my colleague who had been in a similar situation, she suggested a third option for this dilemma: Encourage Robert to apply for the new position without disclosing confidential information. I could point out to Robert that while the decision is ultimately for him and his family to make, the change could be advantageous for his future, meet his interests better or help him develop in a new direction.
  5. I think the latter option is the best solution to the dilemma because it lets me observe my professional value of confidentiality and also the values of care and empathy for Robert and his situation.

Alternatives

It would have been possible to tell Robert that I have confidential information pertinent to his situation and I am not at liberty to discuss it with him.

Resolution

While this scenario is fictional, the colleague I consulted has used their opinion successfully in the past and it seems like a very good way to solve the dilemma.

Reflection

This assignment has taken me longer to complete than others because it made me think of ethical dilemmas in the classroom, at work and in private life that present themselves and are sometimes difficult to solve.

I believe that everyone has a set of values and ethics they base decisions on. Usually we don’t think much about the underlying values and rely more on our “gut” to make these decisions rather than using a formal template as in this case.

But it was interesting to approach this dilemma in this way and it will help me in the future, especially when no obvious solution presents itself.

My upbringing and my history, the people I met in my life and the situations I have been in have given me a moral framework to make decisions. It is helpful to examine these decision-making processes to see if they are appropriate to use in each situation.

Example: Being raised in Germany, I have a strong sense of rules and the importance of following them. I often automatically assume that these rules (perceived or real) are also what guides other people’s decisions. Naturally, this is not always the case because other people have different backgrounds and experiences.

Looking at the guiding values in the course material, this would fit into the “Justice” value described by Kidder. (Kidder, 1995)

Sometimes it is helpful to take a step back from a decision and consider other views and see a situation from another person’s perspective.

As adults, we need to make many decisions like this every day. As educators, it is part of our job to instruct our students about constructive ways to navigate the decisions they face in their lives. I can think of several classroom situations where I have encouraged my students to come up with a decision using their thinking and experience rather than just telling them what to do “because I said so”.

References

Kidder, R. (1995). How Good People Make Tough Choices.

Noddings, N. (1988). An Ethic of Caring and Its Implications for Instructional Arrangements. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1085252

Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. (n.d.). Ethical Principles. Retrieved from Queensu.ca: https://www.queensu.ca/teachingandlearning/modules/ethics/04_s2_01_nine_ethical_principles.html

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1 thought on “Solving an Ethical Dilemma”

  1. Very interesting scenario! I read it out to Carrie and we discussed options. I had thought of the option your colleague suggested. But Carrie suggested going to the people responsible for making the confidential decision (or advising Robert to do so) to make sure they understood the impact of the move on their valuable employee and to rethink keeping it confidential.

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