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The Great Divide–Ethics Codes & Unethical Behavior May 30, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Education, ethical decision making, ethics codes, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness.
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Really, does one need a formal ethics code to restrain a person from unwarranted and non-consensual sexual behavior visited upon another? Does an ethics code in the work place inhibit an employee from cheating on his/her spouse? (Or even inhibit supporting dueling pregnancies or running for president in the midst of marital infidelity?)  Is a “close relationship” with a subordinate at work only a “potential” conflict of interest?  Please, someone enlighten me!

While today’s New York Times article on the International Monetary Fund does provide insight into the two tiered system of ethics codes and enforcement systems within that organization, it really does not provide any enlightenment into the impact of those codes on human behavior. Nor does it note the distinction between unethical behavior in ones professional life and personal life–although some would argue that this is a distinction without a difference.  However, think inappropriate gifting to impact government decision-making or sexual harassment on the job as professional life settings and infidelity occurring outside of the workplace as personal.

Clearly the New York Times did not seek to explore the psychological underpinnings of human behavior in today’s article;  it is simply reporting upon and providing insight into the inner-workings of the  ethics codes and enforcement at the IMF. The impetus for the article is the recent resignation of the IMF Managing Director,“Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who denies the charges, has resigned his position at the fund.”

It just seems that there is a disconnect between whatever flaws there may be in the IMF ethics procedures and the alleged behavior of its Managing Director.  One has to wonder whether a more  transparent ethics procedure equipped with greater sanctions would really deter an alleged sexual assault. [We have criminal statutes that certainly do not deter individuals from criminal conduct, including sexual assault,–certainly one may argue that engaging in criminal behavior is generally unethical–although that is a much larger topic.]

So, what’s the point?  The point is that as a society we need to encourage a culture of ethical behavior and develop a consensus as to whether there is some behavior, conducted in a personal or professional setting, that reflects such a lack of judgement as to disqualify the individual from certain positions in society.  It is an evolving process–one that is aided by ethics codes that guide and create the minimum standards of conduct that we require in a particular setting.  However, until we further understand and address the psychological underpinnings of  decision-making and the role of ethics in the actual moment of the decision, ethics codes, such as the one that exists at IMF, will probably have little impact on behavior such as the alleged sexual assault and resignation of its Managing Director.


A New Version of THE DREAM: Martin Luther King and the Public Employees’ Unions April 5, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Education, Labor Issues, Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Irony, progress or backward motion?  Perhaps a bit of all three…Labor unions and civil rights groups organized sit-ins and teach-ins all across the country yesterday to protest the assault on the rights of public employees’ unions to engage in meaningful collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio. The sponsors of the “We Are One” rallies noted Dr. King’s tie to the rights of public employees and his plans to march with striking sanitation workers–his plans were foiled by his tragic death.

“What we are witnessing is nothing but an ideological assault on Dr. King’s vision for a more economically just nation,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Yes, irony, progress and backward motion….

Irony– Because some of the same folks against whom he marched no doubt have descendants that are now employing Dr. King’s philosophy and methodology to fight for their rights.

Progress– Because  although Dr. King would no doubt be troubled by the states’ strategy to solve  their financial crisis by denying public employees’ unions the right to meaningful bargaining, he probably would be gratified to see that this new rally and call for equality is composed of individuals reflecting a rainbow of ethnicity, race and gender.

Backward motion–Because although we have become a nation in which there is greater opportunity for minorities, arguably the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown even larger.

Regardless of ones view on the rights of public employees, it is a testament to our democracy that Dr. Martin Luther King lives on not only in our memories, but  as a contemporary guide to employ the First Amendment to voice our opinions, to assemble and to petition the government with our grievances.

Raising Arizona: Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program Under Attack January 9, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Education, Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Dueling perceptions of the reality of Tucson’s ethnic studies’ programs have caused the state legislature to pass a bill directed at Tucson’s ethnic studies program.  No, wait a moment…Did I say ethnic studies? Seems that the African-American and Native-American studies program are safe, but the Mexican-American program is so controversial that it resulted in its own “private” legislation.

The bill, known as HB2281, was actually passed last fall, but just became effective.  Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent for Schools who has just become  Arizona’s Attorney General, is a proponent of the law that “authorizes the state superintendent to stop any ethnic studies classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In fact, Horne has conceded that Tucson’s program is the target of this law. His successor, John Huppenthal, supports Horne’s findings against Tucson’s Mexican-American Program.

Shortly after this law was passed last fall, a group of Tucson’s teachers filed suit to have the law overturned, alleging constitutional violations including First Amendment free speech claims and a lack of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  While Horne and Huppenthal have alleged that the Mexican-American program teaches anti-American precepts such as Ben Franklin was a racist and promotes undesirable “ethnic chauvinism”, both student and teacher testimonials applaud the inclusion of history from a “Mexican-American” perspective and assert that the program “has been effective in reducing dropout rates among Latino students, as well as discipline problems, poor attendance and failure rates.”

The controversy in general and the lawsuit specifically could serve as another great opportunity for a sociological, legal and cultural debate on both free speech and the educational system in a diverse democratic setting except for one serious constraint.  HB2281 comes equipped with some serious financial teeth; if Tucson does not dismantle its program within 60 days then the state can devastate the entire Tucson educational system by imposing a 15 million dollar penalty upon Tucson. The lawsuit requests an injunction to prevent the law from being imposed prior to the lawsuit being resolve and apparently the Tucson School Board has already submitted a letter to the state detailing the current program’s compliance with the law.

Arizona’s battle is one worth watching as it represents cultural and educational issues that impact our children and the future of our country.  Besides….after seeing the copy cat immigration legislation popping up in campaigns last November, it won’t be surprising if other states’ legislatures start debating and attempting to legislate ethnic studies programs in our own backyards.

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