Whistle-Blower, Beware

Today’s New York Times has an op-ed on Edward Snowden’s disclosure that “the National Security Agency was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.” The author, Mark Hertsgaard, shows that Snowden’s decision was shaped by the experience of Thomas Drake, “a senior N.S.A. official who had also complained, 12 years earlier, about warrantless surveillance.”

Drake’s house was raided by the F.B.I., and he “was forced to resign and was indicted on 10 felony charges arising from an alleged ‘scheme’ to improperly ‘retain and disclose classified information.'”

Snowden “followed the Drake case closely in the news media” and told Al Jazeera, “If there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there couldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”

Hertsgaard opines that Drake’s case convinced Snowden that he

had only two real options: remain silent, or break the law by leaking documents to the press in hopes that would bring scrutiny to the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities.

Were those truly the only options available to Snowden? I’m doubtful. What do you think?

Ken Pimple
May 26, 2016
3:30 pm EST

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The Broken Bargain With College Graduates

An op-ed in today’s New York Times reiterates points we made in an earlier post: The high rate of college tuition debt is an ethical problem for the United States, in part because, as the editorial says,

the familiar assumption — graduate from college and prosperity will follow — has been disproved in this century. College-educated workers have not seen meaningful pay raises, and public policy has failed to address the stagnation.

The editorial goes on to paraphrase President Obama on ways to improve the situation:

Modernize infrastructure. Raise the minimum wage. Reverse the dynamics that increase executive pay and depress employee pay. Close tax loopholes that enrich the wealthy, and give tax breaks to families to help pay for child care. Ensure that women earn equal pay for equal work.

One must hope that our next president, and the congress with which she or he will have to contend, will act quickly and comprehensibly.

Ken Pimple
May 22, 2016
6:30 pm EST

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Ethics, Transparency, and Trust: The Ethical Intelligence Professional

The fifth in The Future of Professional Ethics Workshop series at Indiana University will be hosted by the Maurer School of Law,  Friday, April 15, 9:30 am-noon, in Maurer Law School 125, via Twitter #FutureEthics, and live stream.

Seminar poster

The keynote speaker is Alexander W. Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Mr. Joel will discuss how ethical principles can help ensure that intelligence agencies pursue their national security mission in a manner that reflects the nation’s values while coping with constant and fast-paced change and striving to build and maintain public trust through transparency.


  • Part I — Maurer Law School 125
    • 9:30 am – 10:30 am — Keynote
    • 10:30 am – 11:30 am — Perspectives from IU faculty with expertise in areas such as whistleblowing, cryptography, law, and leadership, plus a public Q&A period
  • Part II — Poynter Center
    • 12:00 noon – 1:30 pm – – A panel of past and current professionals from the intelligence community, including the CIA and the US Attorney’s office, will continue the discussion over lunch.

NOTE Please notify lescoope@indiana.edu by Monday, April 11th to be included in the catering order, or feel free to bring your own brown bag lunch.


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Professionals without Borders: Cosmopolitan Ethics and the Global Imaginary

The fourth in The Future of Professional Ethics Workshop series at Indiana University Bloomington will be hosted by The Media School, Friday, April 1, 9:00 am-noon, in Woodburn Hall 111 and online: #FutureEthics

Seminar poster

The keynote speaker is Clifford Christians, Professor Emeritus of Communication, of Media Studies, and Journalism, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Abundant electronic technologies are reinventing the globe as mobile territory, with transit and portability the new normal.  Digital mediation typically means that we exist “everywhere always and nowhere never.”  Professionalism is now a borderless phenomenon in a deep and profound way unknown before in history.  The media are a technological regime at the meaning-edge of the technological revolution; therefore the media professions are a privileged laboratory for understanding professional theory and practice as a whole in the digital era.  The challenge in an age of the instantaneous and momentary is to develop a cosmopolitan ethics, cosmopolitanism known in history as “citizens of the world.”  Now this idea ought to be the defining imperative for teaching, research, and professional practice.  The globe is an imaginary, and instead of it being imagined as neoliberal markets or nation states, Heidegger’s humanocentric philosophy of technology should construct our global imagination.  Within that global imaginary, a cosmopolitan ethics begins with universal human solidarity rather than the traditional ethics of individual autonomy.  A credible commitment to humanity’s intrinsic worth is possible if our education of students and training of professionals is rooted in the liberal arts where questions of life’s purpose and moral philosophy predominate.

Made Possible by  College of Arts and Sciences Ostrom Grants Program.

Sponsored by Association for Practical and Professional Ethics; Department of Business, Law & Ethics, Kelley School of Business; Division of Informatics, School of Informatics and Computing; Maurer School of Law; Media School; Medical Sciences Program; Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics; School of Education; School of Optometry; School of Public and Environmental Affairs; School of Public Health–Bloomington; School of Social Work.

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Hidden Curricula

Hidden Curricula

On February 10th, three instructors from the Medical Sciences Program at Indiana University Bloomington presented a panel on the role of medical education in shaping students into physicians. Mark Bauman, MD, Doug Carr, MD, and Sarah Tieman, MD, encouraged the audience, which included several students interested in pursuing medical education, to share their ideas about what forces help shape the kind of doctor a person becomes.

The list included: core motivations (which vary person to person), relationships with faculty and mentors (preclinical and clinical), formative interactions with patients, financial pressures (tuition & debt), educational standards and metrics, and “pre-formation” or the values and abilities that medical students arrive with from their upbringing and primary education. Bauman opined that as much as nurturing key relationships and experiences as well as knowledge is essential, the core values and motives that students arrive with are most often persistent – what you learned in kindergarten really does make a big difference to who you become later.

Of particular interest for contemplating the future of professional ethics was the discussion of the formal curriculum (knowledge & competencies), and the hidden curriculum (workplace culture and the incentive structure of the for-profit health care system).

Stats in our last blog post showed that fewer than 60% of professionals surveyed across three sectors report an “ethical or strong ethical-leaning” workplace culture. What might the results be for health care system employees? Regardless, even in an ethically congenial working environment, the gap between education and practice demands careful moral reasoning.

The problem of deciding just how much contextual knowledge a newcomer needs to take meaningful – and ethically well-advised – initiatives seems like one that could apply to many professions beyond medicine. On the one hand, newcomers to a workplace can cause unintended harm when they try to assert their ideas before they get to know the local context in real depth – how do you gauge the amount of knowledge you need to fulfill good intentions in an unfamiliar context? On the other hand, for young professionals aware that they may be entering workplaces whose ethical culture needs continued improvement, how do you avoid uncritically assimilating to local norms that really should change?

Tieman pointed out that when students cycle through short-term internships, they often don’t have time to develop the level of either detailed knowledge or investment to try to be problem-solvers – and may walk away without much insight into the struggles of their colleagues and patients. She argued that a benefit of the longer concurrent rotations that IU School of Medicine is now testing out might be that young professionals have enough time to build relationships with patients, to comprehend and evaluate the big picture of how a unit works, and thus to make thoughtful decisions about where to invest their time and energy.

Certainly, the robust culture of reflection discussed at our third #FutureEthics Workshop at IUB would serve to help young professionals be mindful of the gap between their training in a formal curriculum and the informal but extremely powerful hidden curriculum of their profession.

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Workshop Review: Developing and Defending Your Ethical Professional Brand

The third in the Indiana University Bloomington Future of Professional Ethics Workshop Series took place on January 29th, 2016, hosted by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Keynote speaker Trish Tchume explored the question, “How do you walk through the world of work with integrity?” She opened by sharing a conversation she had with a friend about the stress of ethical concerns on the job. Allow me to paraphrase the striking conversation she reported: “You know how you have this sense of a fence in the distance between you and behaving unethically. And most people, they get more and more cautious as they approach that fence. But certain co-workers just go running at it full tilt. They might always stop short, but you hate to work with them because you feel like you’re being dragged along in their mad dash toward the boundaries of what’s right.”

Tchume went on to outline some great ways to make this metaphor more specific and practical:

What makes up the ethical fence? For the nonprofit sector, it is ultimately the IRS tax code and the definition of a nonprofit as an organization that acts “for the benefit of the general public…without a profit motive.”

What’s testing the ethical fence? Tchume cited several things that shape the environment new grads will go into. One is a characteristic of the workforce: widespread sector-agnosticism, meaning many graduates are willing to consider working in nonprofit, for-profit, or government sectors, they are more focused on results than dedicated to a specific way of getting them. However, these sectors all have different legal and ethical fences. They also expose young professionals to vastly different potential payscales and raise the question of how much – or how little – compensation professionals will expect. Finally, the traditional nonprofit worker finds herself in a competitive funding environment that can pit organizations against each other on the one hand, and on the other hand part of a general social trend toward efficiencies of scale and a focus on metrics, which push all organizations to define success in more business-like terms. Tchume pointed to the recent controversy over the Wounded Warrior project as a case study in some of the tensions involved in scaling organizations up.

Finally, Tchume urged listeners to ask “What slows me down as I run screeching toward the fence?” She advocated for the importance of creating reflective time and space to work this deeply. She shared a graphic(1) originally published by Robert Nash that illustrates the several levels of reflection: listening to your own feelings and intuitions to make sure your job is staying in alignment with your personal brand of ethics, considering the ethical culture of your organization and the specific duties of your role, expanding that reflection to the context of the community your organization works in, and finally thinking most broadly about the story you want your life, your career to tell. During Q&A, she suggested that this multi-level can be a way to grapple with issues like staff investment and retention – by seeing yourself and your colleagues as part of a story that includes but also transcends your current organization.

Panelists Jill Long Thompson and Beth Gazely seconded the keynote’s focus on the vital importance of regular reflection, emphasizing that although most people in government and nonprofits want to do good, it’s a mistake to think that ethics just comes naturally – rather, like building muscles, it takes practice. They agreed that reflective space and conversation is vital to build emotional intelligence, develop those ethical muscles, and to contribute to workplace culture. In concert, the speakers made a compelling case that building space for ethical reflection is imperative for professionals, as individuals, as colleagues, as managers, as friends, and as mentors.

This imperative is all the more urgent in light of survey results Tchume shared early in her talk from www.ethics.org: “58% of nonprofit employees surveyed report a strong or strong-leaning ethics culture in their workplace; 52% in business; and 50% in government.” These numbers drive home the point that young professionals can’t expect the right decisions to always be obvious.


(1)Graphic- Spaces for Developing Your Professional Ethical Brand

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Call for Papers: The Past, Present and Future of Applied Ethics

Call for Papers

10th International Conference on Applied Ethics:
‘The Past, Present and Future of Applied Ethics’
October 28-30 (Fri–Sun), 2016
Hosted by the Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy (CAEP)
Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Japan)

We are delighted to announce the 10th International Conference on Applied Ethics on October 28-30 (Fri–Sun), 2016, at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

We invite papers written towards the conference theme in applied ethics, broadly construed, that address philosophical, political, economic, social, and cultural issues in applied ethics.

This includes, but is not limited to: meta/normative ethics, bio/medical ethics, engineering ethics, ethics of science and technology, information ethics, research ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, professional ethics, feminist/gender/sexuality ethics, philosophy of sex, political philosophy, moral psychology, and international/global ethics.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Ruth Chadwick (Manchester)
  • Michael Davis (Illinois Institute of Technology)
  • Peter G. Stone (Newcastle)
  • Stephen Ward (British Columbia)

Those participants who wish to present papers are requested to submit a 150–300 word abstract in a MS-Word file (.doc) to CAEP (caep@let.hokudai.ac.jp) by May 31 (Tue), 2016.

Presented papers may be considered for publication in both our print and electronic journal upon submission and review.

Up to ten travel awards of between 20,000 and 30,000 JPY (equivalent to approx. 180–270 USD) are available for overseas graduate students and non-tenured scholars who present papers. The grant application form is available from the CAEP webpage. (Application Deadline: May 31 (Tue), 2016)

For further details, please visit our website: http://ethics.let.hokudai.ac.jp

All queries should be sent to: caep@let.hokudai.ac.jp

Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy
Graduate School of Letters
Hokkaido University
N10 W7, Kita-ku
Sapporo 060-0810

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Mapping the “New Professionalism”

On January 21st, Associate Professor of Sociology Timothy Hallett gave a Poynter Roundtable presentation on his work-in-progress with Matthew Gougherty, an in-depth study of a “Masters of Public Affairs” program. The project was originally inspired by an interest in the explosion of “accountability” logics across sectors; one research question being how educational programs might be functioning as incubators of this phenomenon. In the course of gathering extensive data on a cohort of MPA students and their faculty, the researchers found the concept of “professionalism” coming up repeatedly – yet not in a way that fits the dominant sociological definitions. What can this study tell us about the meaning of “professionalism” today?

One theoretical approach to defining a profession is functionalism. On a functionalist account, a profession is distinguished by having a recognized civic role, entailing that its members define themselves by a role-specific code of ethics and exercise a high degree of autonomy, both in applying their skills to meet public needs and in regulating themselves as a group. As a result of public trust and responsibility, they enjoy high social status. This view aligns with the self-understanding of fields such as law, medicine, the clergy, and engineering, the classic professions.

An approach based in a theory of power will emphasize the opposite side of the coin, arguing that professions emerge when members establish monopolies: through licensure and internal policing mechanisms like professional associations, the classic professions control access to a field of practice. This view might lend itself to more cynical or critical arguments, attributing high social status to successful power management rather than to social service — but like functionalism it is best tailored to explain the classic professions.

The MPA degree doesn’t seem to lead to anything that fits either of these definitions of “professional.” Graduates don’t expect to exercise the autonomy of judgment that functionalism predicts, instead being trained in the logic of “accountability,” which trends in the opposite direction. And degree holders don’t have a jurisdictional monopoly of power; there is no analogue to the American Medical Association. And social status is contingent on a variety of factors beyond the control of the degree program: the term “MPA” itself does not, as yet, have much of a vernacular status value.

Yet faculty and students in the program alike are deeply concerned with “becoming more professional,” “acting professional,” etc. Of course, as pointed out in the Roundtable discussion, these terms can have a vernacular meaning that points to working in an office or following a certain dress code, in opposition to working in the service industry or other explicitly low-status jobs. However, the class background of students in the program suggests that the majority of students would be destined for some type of suit-and-tie or business-casual employment no matter what. So their interest in the MPA is not primarily about accessing middle-class status in the first place, but implies a more particular set of concerns to which the new meanings of “professionalism” (as well as “mission” and other signifiers) provide some kind of answer. The current phase of the project is exploring what light newer theoretical approaches may shed on these emergent meanings.

Many aspects of this outline ring true for other emerging fields, degrees, and job types – there is a clear need for new theory to really explain how today’s college graduates are sorting themselves out in the contemporary social order. We look forward with interest to Hallett and Gougherty’s conclusions, as they promise to prove relevant not only to understanding MPA programs and the proliferation of accountability logic, but also to contribute to our understanding of 21st-century professionalism more broadly.

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A risk factor for lapses of professionalism

The Indiana University School of Medicine Newsroom circulated an interesting report on research concerning professionalism. The study “is one of the first to provide quantitative evidence to support anecdotal claims linking reflective ability of medical students and professional behaviors of future physicians.”

The term “reflective ability” is new to me, but a simple example made it clear.

“Medical students know right from wrong but don’t always reflect on the short- and long-term consequences of their actions,” Dr. Frankel [senior author of the study] said. “For example, cutting and pasting sources from the Internet without attribution, which some students believe is permissible, is actually a form of plagiarism as is cutting and pasting patients’ electronic medical records. Not seeing or reflecting upon the connection between these two types of behaviors can pose a risk for serious lapses in professionalism. By enhancing students’ training in reflective practice we can boost their awareness and vigilance regarding professionalism.”

I can’t help wondering whether other practitioners in other professions are at a similar risk, and whether mentioned training in reflective practice would help them.

Anonymous. 2016. “Low reflective ability is risk for professionalism lapses during medical school and beyond.” IUSM Newsroom (Jan 21).

Ken Pimple
January 22, 2016
5:10 pm EDT

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