Creating a Sustainable Program for Ethics in Student Affairs: A Look at Climate, Assessment, and Curriculum

Creating a Sustainable Program for Ethics in Student Affairs: A Look at Climate, Assessment, and Curriculum

Christina Van Wingerden (Western Washington University, USA), Maureen Ellis (East Carolina University, USA) and Theodore W. Pratt Jr. (Western Washington University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6433-3.ch017
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Abstract

Ethics is an important thread within higher education student affairs. Creating avenues for intentional, sustainable dialogues and consistent education for employees, one Ethics Officer at a four-year public university in the Northwest embarked on understanding the ethical climate to improve how student affairs professionals interact with students. The goal of this mixed-method design study examined the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of its division administrators about ethics, the ethical climate of a university student affairs division, and the design of an ethical training curriculum for division employees. This chapter reviews the current literature about ethics in higher education, organizational ethical climates, industry standards, and gaps in performance, while providing insights and ideas about best practices.
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Introduction

The economic downturn has affected every sector of the economy, and because of current economic pressures from state budget shortfalls, there are new demands for state colleges and universities to do more with fewer resources. Accordingly, the current economic environment warrants public universities to demonstrate their value and integrity to the public. In an effort to work within the constraints of the new rules, one university in the Northwest designated an administrative position within the Student Affairs division as Ethics Officer, to ensure awareness and adherence to laws, professional standards and policies; with a particular focus on the development and empowerment of top administrators of the division.

The state for this study requires that all state employees are subject to the Ethics in Public Service Act (Chapter 42.52 RCW), which covers how state employees should conduct themselves ethically during business hours. Additionally, many professions have their own professional standards and code of ethics, which are also expected to be followed by professionals. It is important for professionals to understand that “the formal codes of the profession and the standards of the field that guide our work as educators is a critical part of ethical decision making” (Hornack, 2009, p. 56). Equally important to formal codes and standards is the thorough understanding of each individual personal code of ethics and standards of practice. “Understanding of institutional mission and values is important” (Hornack, 2009, p. 56). All three components are paramount and intersect when making ethical decisions in practice.

Universities, like other agencies in the public eye, are accountable to the public for stewardship of resources, experiences of students, quality of the academy, and good citizenship. It is important to practice good, ethical, decision-making; appropriate and caring treatment of others; and good leadership. For individuals working in student affairs, ethical decision-making is foundational to daily work with students.

This goal of this chapter is to examine the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the university’s division administrators about ethics; the ethical climate of a university student affairs division; and design an ethical training curriculum for division employees. This chapter will review the current literature about ethics in higher education, organizational ethical climates, assess industry standards, and identify gaps in performance, while providing insights and ideas about best practices. The multi-part, mixed-method design study resulted in new curriculum of a three-hour employee ethics workshop designed to educate, empower, promote dialogue and add sustainability to ethics within the division.

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