Here It Is, The Ethics Exception You’ve Been Waiting For: When The Naked Teacher Principle Doesn’t Apply

The Naked Teacher Principle: The Principle states that a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

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Ms. Webb, NYC school guidance counselor, circa 1995. Va-va-voom.

Tiffany Webb is, or was, a 37 year-old  guidance counselor in the  New York City public schools. She had excelled at her job for 12 years until photos she posed for as a 20-year-old lingerie model turned up on the internet.  When a student showed  photos of Webb that he had found online to her principal, it was recommended that she be fired. After an investigation, an Education Department committee voted 2-1 to do just that, concluding, ‘The inappropriate photos were accessible to impressionable adolescents. That behavior has a potentially adverse influence on her ability to counsel students and be regarded as a role model.”

Her firing came as she was scheduled to gain tenure. Naturally, she’s suing.  I hope she wins, because while the committee’s rhetoric is in line with the sound reasoning behind the Naked Teacher Principle, the facts dictate that this is the point—and all rules have such a point point— where “ethics incompleteness” occurs and the rule, however valid it is the vast majority of the time, accomplishes unethical rather than ethical ends.

The Naked Teacher Principle doesn’t apply to Tiffany Webb because:

1. She is not naked, though the photos doesn’t leave much to the imagination, either. OK, forget #1.

2. It was 17 years ago. There has to be some statute of limitations on the NTP. I don’t know what it should be, but I know the number is less than 17 years.

3. Webb did not post the pictures, or pose for them when the internet was as ubiquitous and intrusive as it is today.

4. Nor were the photos posted under proper authorization from her or anyone else. Many have been photo-shopped, she says.

5. Most important of all, she fully disclosed her lingerie model past to the Board of Education when she was hired.

6. Unlike most cases of the Naked Teacher Principle, the teacher’s judgment and sense of responsibility is not in question.

That’s enough for me.

In this case, Tiffany is blameless, except, perhaps, that she has kept herself in good enough shape over the years that her 20-year-old image is still sufficiently recognizable  to cause her embarrassment. (I hate people like that, don’t you? Where’s that Twinky?)  She has done nothing wrong whatsoever, and the presence of her revealing photos on the internet should not be held against her.  They certainly should not cost her the career she has excelled at.

“I am a dedicated professional and enjoyed being a guidance counselor,” she told reporters. “I did my job well, and my students and parents thought very highly of me. I would love to return to (New York City schools) and resume the career I have chosen to help and guide students.”  Indeed, she is the innocent victim of the Naked Teacher Principle, and ethics principles aren’t supposed to have victims. This time, it just doesn’t work.

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Facts, Graphic: NY Post

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

8 thoughts on “Here It Is, The Ethics Exception You’ve Been Waiting For: When The Naked Teacher Principle Doesn’t Apply

  1. I wondered what your take on this one would be when I saw it. Glad to see it agrees with mine.

    17 years…1995, the year I discovered the internet even existed. Half my lifetime ago, and nearly that of Ms. Webb.

  2. Yep. Probably not the best choice of commerce to make at that age, but that was then and this is now. Committee acted in an unethical manner.

  3. No, they should NOT cost her career that she excels at. But even this could be a good lesson of unintended consequences of things teens might do (as being 20 when she did this was much closer to their age now) If she disclosed it when hired then they really have no reason to fire her this many years later.

    • Agreed. On the other hand, if you have a body like that, and you will for only a limited amount of time, 1) opportunities will come your way, and 2) it seems unethical not to let people admire it, don’t you think?

      • it seems unethical not to let people admire it, don’t you think?

        Would it thus be unethical to not admire it?

        And if that is the case please know that, when you attempt to use that explanation on your significant other, you can always crash on my futon…

  4. I agree entirely. If the teacher had not disclosed her prior employment, the Board of Ed. might have a leg to stand on, but, that does not seem to be the case.
    One note, Jack, I think you intended the last sentence of the second to last paragraph to be “They certainly should NOT cost her….”

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