In Kansas, A High School Ethics Train Wreck: An Unqualified Principal, Unethical Students, And A False And Dangerous Lesson About Consequentialism

Why are these students smiling sweetly? Because they sent the message to their teachers to be wary; after all, there’s a lot of dirt on the internet…


Seemingly every one is cheering the Pittsburg High School (Kansas) students on the school paper who investigated their newly hired principal, found her credentials to be dubious, and forced her to resigned from her $93,000-a-year job. You can read the story here and here.

For the purposes of Ethics Alarms, I’m not interested in the principal at all. What matters here is that journalists, teachers, TV talking heads and everyone else commenting on the story are proving themselves ignorant of basic ethical principles, like the fact that conduct that happens to result in something desirable doesn’t make the conduct appropriate if it wasn’t ethical at the outset, aka “consequentialism leads to bad lessons and bad ethics,” and “the ends justifies the means.”

From the article:

“Pittsburg journalism adviser Emily Smith said she is “very proud” of her students. “They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”

Emily Smith is too incompetent and ethically confused to advise aspiring student journalists or any other students. The students “wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” according to the student editor of the paper. That’s not their job, their duty, or their business. They aren’t journalists; they are students learning about journalism. Determining if the new principal was qualified was entirely the responsibility of the the Pittsburg Board of Education, which botched its job and approved hiring the principal at its meeting March 6. That the students did the due diligence the Board failed to do is being used as cover by the Board: Everything worked out because of these great students, who we have educated so well!

Wrong. Unbelievably wrong. Dangerously wrong.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “What You Say Or Think In Private Is None Of Your Employer’s Business, Until It Isn’t Private Any More” Files: The Teachers’ Bar Game


Akin to the Naked Teacher Principle is what this fiasco illustrates. If you allow conversations to make their way to the web and they insult or denigrate individuals who have to trust you or work with you in your employment, you cannot complain when your name is mud and your job is toast.

Some teachers and and staff employed by the Bangor Public Schools were relaxing at a local bar, and started playing a game  called “Fuck, Marry, or Kill.” The game challenges the players to name three celebrities they would marry, have intimate relations with or kill, but the educators decided to substitute students and other teachers for the celebrities.Some the students named as desired murder victims or sex partners were special needs students. What fun!

No ethics alarms sounded. Someone made a video, nobody grabbed the phone and stomped on , and the video ended up on YouTube.

Parents were not pleased. Continue reading

Comment of the Day:”Yes Julea,You Have A Right To Your Beliefs; You Just Don’t Have A Right…”

An Ethics Alarms heartfelt thank you and “I owe you one!” to Ethics Sage, for cutting to the other core ethical point about what was wrong with Julea Ward’s refusal to counsel a gay student, and why she should have been dismissed from the university course as a consequence. It wasn’t just failure of responsibility, which my post was fixated on, but also failure of caring, compassion, and our shared duty as human beings to help each other even if our religion encourages us to regard those human beings as immoral.

Ethics Sage shows his handle ain’t just horn-blowin’ with this Comment of the Day, on the post “Yes Julea,You Have A Right To Your Beliefs; You Just Don’t Have A Right…”

“Julea Ward’s refusal to counsel a gay student is despicable on many levels. What if the student’s life had been threatened and he went to counseling to get some advice? How can anyone not act to help a person in that kind of situation or others we can think of that may or may not have anything to do with being gay? By refusing to counsel the gay student, Ward failed miserably not only to meet the requirements of the course but to act as a human being with compassion for another.”

Yes Julea,You Have A Right To Your Beliefs; You Just Don’t Have A Right To A Job That Your Beliefs Won’t Let You Do. Why Is This Not Obvious?

There are some issues where conservatives are just ethically, logically and legally misguided, and the issue of exercising “religious conscience” in the course of performing specific duties and services is one of them.

Julea Ward was dismissed for failing to meet the requirements of her course when she  refused to counsel a gay student while studying counseling at Eastern Michigan University. Ward later sued, saying that she told her supervisor at EMU she believes homosexuality is immoral and being gay is a choice, and that she could not in good conscience counsel a gay client. A federal court dismissed the case in July, but Ward’s lawyers have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District to step in. She claims that her right to worship as she pleases is being infringed. Continue reading

Kelli Space’s Cyber-Begging? Not Unethical, Just Desperate

Northeastern alum Kelli Space, 23, owes $200,000 on her student loans, and has to pay federal student loan agency Sallie Mae $891 per month. That figure will nearly double in a year, and Kelli doesn’t make enough to pay off her debt. In desperation, she has launched a website called Two Hundred Thou, asking for donations. These aren’t charitable donations, now—you won’t get any deduction for giving to Kelli, any more than you will giving to the homeless guy on the street. This is begging, plain and simple.

Her pitch: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Geraldo Rivera

Geraldo Rivera has declared that Rolling Stone Magazine is a journalistic miscreant for not treating comments that weren’t expressly “on the record” as “off the record,” and reporting the derogatory comments of now-deposed Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff regarding  President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and others.  The upcoming article’s contents, he reasons, do no good and much bad, and are irresponsible…”a terrible thing.”

Some news media reporting in times of war are indeed irresponsible and unethical, as when the New York Times has published the details of intelligence operations. This is not such a case. Continue reading

“Seattle Cop Punches Girl In Face!” Ethical?

YouTube is a wonderful resource that enriches our entertainment, makes us laugh, holds people in the public eye accountable for their actions, and give us better access to current events than ever before. In the area of police conduct, it has exposed abuses that might have otherwise escaped scrutiny. It is also eventually going to get a police officer killed.

The viral video of a Seattle cop punching a teenaged girl in the face has been getting the Rodney King treatment from the broadcast media and the web, with the immediate assumption that his actions are per se proof of police brutality and excessive force. All the societal hot buttons are stacked against the cop: he punches a woman (“You don’t hit a girl!“); she’s a teen (It’s an adult beating a child!); she’s black, and he’s white (Racism!); the underlying offense that triggered the incident was as minor as you can get. (“Jaywalking?”) Predictable, the sensation-hunting news outlets and the usual knee-jerk critics of the police (the N.A.A.C.P. and the A.C.L.U.) have pounced. This is neither a fair nor a competent way to examine a complex incident. Continue reading

Obama’s Ethics Foul: A False Pledge

Lost in the furor over the insulting “small  people” characterization by BP’s hapless Chairman was a seriously unethical statement by President Obama. If the President is lucky, nobody will remember it. He hasn’t been very lucky lately, however.

As with Hurricane Katrina and President Bush, the Gulf oil spill has subjected President Obama to some unfair public expectations, some of which stem from a basic misunderstanding of Presidential power. (There have also been his genuine failures to meet reasonable expectations based on correct assumptions about Presidential leadership—but that is another topic.) Unfortunately, President Obama brings this upon himself by habitually over-stating his influence over people and events that he can not really control. He did this again, when he announced BP’s agreement to establish a 20 billion dollar fund to address the leaking oil’s damage to the Gulf region, its businesses and its inhabitants: Continue reading