Culture, Ethics and Administrative Responsibility: Paper Assignment.


The assignment is to analyze and resolve an ethical problem.    Ideally, it should be a problem you have faced or might expect to face as an administrator, but this is not essential. It can also be your assessment of a problem someone else has faced, or faces, or a problem you see arising from some newly created situation, such as a new law, court decision, or administrative ruling or guideline. Minimum length is 15 pages, double spaced, exclusive of title page and bibliography. Do not use funny typefaces or colored print. Be professional. Papers should be submitted as hard copy with an accompanying electronic file. You can submit the electronic file on disk or cd, or as an email attachment. The latter is actually better (and cheaper). Please label it with your last name and some indication of the topic: LeafEthics.


An ethical problem is not simply anything you might happen to disapprove or approve of. It is something that involves a rule or principle of behavior toward others that you think should be approved of, or should not be approved of, generally.  Whatever topic you choose, pulling out and describing such a principle--or such principles--is crucial to whether the paper can reach a coherent conclusion.


There is also a difference between a policy argument and an ethical argument. The strongest policy papers usually do not involve ethical arguments but are confined fairly clearly to analyses of cause and effect: “If we do X this will happen and if we do Y that will happen.”  Ethical questions usually begin when causes and effects are known but there is a difference of opinion about the human or social value of the different possibilities that they set up. What kind of ethical values will they entail? What kind of values do they encourage?  Ethical issues are also questions of individual choice.  Exactly what the characteristics of such choices are is of course something the writers we discuss disagree about. In general, however, when you are trying to make an “ethical” decision you are trying to make a decision regarding your action toward other people or some other person, and this decision has two sides: What is the right thing for you to do (or decide) and what will others see as the right thing for you to do (or decide)?


A possible topic might be “How would Confucius deal with affirmative action?” but a much better topic would be “Could I use Confucian principles to deal with affirmative action?” I remind you of the example I gave in class from my personal experience. First, when I was a young soldier (18 years old) learning to be a supply sergeant, at one point I was assigned the job of escorting a person who had gone AWOL to the post brig. We had the use of a quarter-ton truck (like a small pickup) and driver and I had to take him to various offices on the post to do his paper-work before actually turning him in to be jailed. The system was that he and I would sit in the bed of the truck while the driver drove.  I was told that if I did not get him to the brig I would serve the sentence in his place. I did not know if this was actually true. I think the sentence was six months.  I was also told to check out a rifle and ammunition, and that I should shoot him if tried to escape.  Under these circumstances, I had to ask myself two questions. First, should I load the rifle? Second, if he tried to escape, should I use it?  


Another, I will put as a hypothetical.  Assume that in this class I have a good student who takes an active and constructive part in class discussions, clearly has administrative experience and is a good administrator, does well on the examinations, but submits a paper that is entirely material from the web that is not attributed to its sources and whose sources are not cited. That is, it is plagiarized.  Moreover, it does not make sense.  My choices are two: fail the paper or refer the matter to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action and recommend a failing grade for the entire course, suspension, or expulsion. Bearing in mind that I have to  apply the same principle in my treatment of all students, which do I chose?


Another, more complex, type of paper that many students have wanted to do concerns the relationship between administrative rule or law and individual the ethics of those the law or rule would apply to. That is, you can take a law and ask what kind of ethical position following it would puts someone in? Can people follow a law they consider ethically wrong--under one or another of the various theories we discuss? Is it ethical to write laws or rules that compel unethical behavior? If we write a law that we want people to follow for some reason, how can we do so in a way that attracts the ethical values or inclinations of the people we would expect it to affect? What kind of business regulation, for example, promotes ethical behavior by businesses? What kind of military law or rule promotes unethical behavior by soldiers operating a military prison? How can a law promote ethical behavior among medical professionals? How can it promote unethical behavior? Be careful in this type of paper to look at the ethical implications of the law or rule rather than focusing on other kinds of policy-relevant implications.


Your assessment is not restricted to the writers we have discussed or the specific writings that we have discussed. You can discuss different writings and different people. Most likely, if you pick a contemporary problem you will find a contemporary writer taking a position on it that they describe as religious or as “Kantian” or “Utilitarian” or “Confucian” etc., and in such a case the obvious thing to do is concentrate on this writer himself or herself.  Is their position really the same as the author they invoke? If not how does it differ? And either way, does it help? Or you may come across an ethical position or argument that does not name one of the people or positions we have studied. In this kind of case, the obvious question is whether it is really different or if it is the same as something we have discussed and, again, whether it helps.


All material that you quote should be indicated as quoted. Material paraphrased should be indicated as paraphrased. All quoted or paraphrased material should be referenced. A graduate student should know how to give proper references.  If you have not learned it up to now, this is the time. There are several standard sources; the main ones are by Kate Turabian.  You should own one. If you have questions, ask before you hand in the paper. Once you hand it in, I will grade it. If I find you using other people’s words without giving them proper credit, I will treat the paper either as extremely poor scholarship or as a disciplinary matter, depending on your apparent intention. 


Another helpful reference work is Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. And of course you should own a dictionary. 


You should also discuss your sources. If you accept someone’s conclusions, you need to have reasons based on their evidence. If you accept their evidence, you should be able to explain that, too. Appeal to authority is not a valid argument.  Neither is the fact that something suits your preconceptions. This assignment is an opportunity for you to carefully examine your ability to reason through ethical problems, and have someone else read and review that reasoning in a relatively non-dangerous setting. The more common venue for such interaction is something like a courtroom or administrative hearing, and then if you cannot make a good case you can be in far more serious trouble.


The minimum number of additional sources you should use is one. More likely you will need a few, but it depends on the problem and the initial source. I do not want a literature review or a lot of chatter about abstract or fantastic possibilities.

Write as though this is a real problem that has been referred to you for a real solution.


Be sure the paper mentions relevant discussions in class.  You don’t have to give detailed descriptions. You do not need to agree. But you do need to show that you were there and that you understood what was argued and can build on it.   This is partly to assure me that the paper was in fact written by you and for this specific class, but it is also because the main purpose of the paper is to apply what you have learned. If you don’t indicate what that was, it is hard to see if you have applied it.


A word about the internet.  It is very convenient and has much good material.  It is getting better all the time. Many, perhaps most, of the governmental and non-governmental agencies that bear on modern public administration have sites and much of the material on the sites is authoritative. But there is also a tremendous amount of absolute rubbish out there. One of the most basic things you should learn is how to distinguish one from the other, to separate analysis you can rely on from analysis or commentary that will make you look like a nut.  If you quote a loony source and do not recognize that it is loony, it will be your problem.  Books in the university library and journals in the library are certified as probably legitimate by the fact they are there. Generally, it means they have gone through a process of scholarly review designed to weed out what is patently wrong or irrational (although of course sometimes it only weeds out what is unprofitable or unfashionable).  There is no such process on the web.  Anyone can say anything and more and more people do. Don’t waste time with such stuff. 


Being critical does not mean being nasty. It means evaluating claims on the basis of the data behind them and weighing them accordingly. For internet citations, give the url and the date accessed. If it is a pdf file or some other replica of an actual paged document, indicate this and give the pages. Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, but the articles are unsigned and may not be by people who are genuinely knowledgeable. It is often good for a start, but for a final opinion go to something by a person you can identify and whose position, methods, and possible biases you can discuss.


A word about research in general. Some of you have evidently been taught that “research” means finding a words and sentences on some topic in one or more texts, cutting out bits that seem interesting or important and reassembling them in a new text.  This is not research. If your sources are not properly documented it is theft (plagiarism), and if they are properly documented it is being a kind of verbal packrat. A paper has to present your argument. An argument is not just a string of points or statements. You have to have a problem you are trying to solve.  The material you collect should be digested and assessed.   The writing should reflect this digesting process. As you introduce a point from someone else you need to say why you are doing so. Is it a point you trust or do not trust? Is it one you agree with or disagree with? Don’t just use words but say what they mean, and then tie it explicitly to the rest of the argument.  A conclusion does not follow from what is said but from what is proved. This is not easy and it requires attention to detail.


A word about academic standards of honesty. In courts of law, the principle is that you are innocent until proven guilty. This is a minimal principle intended to prevent courts from using their power abusively while assuring they can maintain the bare minimum level of mutual trust needed for ordinary civil life. It is not enough to assure the kind of reliability that science and scholarship should represent.  In science and scholarship, the principle is that it is up to you to show that you have done your work honestly. Further, if at some point you can be shown to have not done so you are not “convicted” just on that one point but rather you are run out of the community entirely. It is only this that allows each piece of work to be properly related to the work of others and become part of the great and ongoing accumulation of knowledge that we are all trying to contribute to.


Writing a paper is not just performing a chore, it is learning a craft.  You only get a limited number of opportunities. Do not waste them.   I am always happy to look over drafts and comment before the due date. I think student services also still has students who will read a paper and give you feed-back.