Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Question of Ethics

New President Interview -- Part 13

A Question of Ethics*

Q> Ethics training both at the college level and the state level are very important for employees. Even with all of this vetting and training outsiders still think the procurement of goods and the hiring of upper management is full of corruption and cronyism. When you were in the hiring process did anyone discuss these issues with you? 

A> Part of the process included asking me what connections I have to vendors and potential vendors of the College. It was made clear that family members can not have preferential treatment in the awarding of contracts.

Ethical behavior consists of both professional standards and legislation. The Illinois the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act may be found in the state code 5 ILCS 430/.  All employees of the public college and university systems are covered by this act even though most of their funding is from non-state funds. They fall under the provision of "Governmental entity." The act covers political activity of employees, accepting gifts, what can and can be promised,  Ex parte communications with potential vendors, and more.

For the most part we are very careful to be fair in the procurement procedures to save the college money and limit bureaucracy. When multiple vendors are competing for our business are careful in our interactions before and public requests for proposals (RFPs).

Q> I talked to a friend who is an attorney for a large corporation and she said that every publicly traded company is also careful in the procurement process to make sure it is fair.  Why do we still hear about deals made to cronies?

A> I read the same news stories.  The reason the stories make the news is that people have done something underhanded or perhaps criminal.  At the College we are very careful to stay away from those kinds of deals.  However, hiring a vendor for a long term relationship requires trust and respect.  Very often we are very friendly with the vendors we need to work with on a daily basis.  We seek to understand each other’s needs and create a mutually acceptable relationship. 

The state ethics laws do prevent us from accepting or giving gratuities in expectation of business.  A vendor can’t give us gifts valued at more than $100 during a calendar year or pay for travel when not discussing business.

While the giving of food worth less than $75 is permitted, I was personally uncomfortable when a vendor appeared in the office with lunch for the staff.  I tried to tell the vendor that no one would eat it.  That was true since it was not
within my dietary restrictions and no one else was around, but the vendor insisted on leaving the food for when someone returned who could eat it.    We gave the food to some students since no staff member would eat it.   While the food was within the statutory limits, I felt it was not right to come without an appointment with lunch.  If the vendor would have made an appointment to discuss business and then offer to bring lunch, I would see no ethical problems.

Q> What then is the definition of “ethics?”

A> Ethics is intertwined with actions and thought to do what is right and fair for the community and the organization. “Right” means that rules are applied fairly to the parties involved.  We have written rules so that everyone is on the same page. Ethics is also doing the right action when no one is directly supervising.  Ethics is answers to a higher authority.  The antithesis of ethical behavior is thinking only of one self.  Babies think only of their immediate needs.  As people mature they learn about society and need to learn behaviors that delay gratification for a greater good.  Maturity is a process of balancing the needs of the individual versus the group and delaying gratification for a greater good. Ethics are involved when the statute says, "XYZ" and you have to choose to obey the letter or spirit of the law.

In a religious context people were created in the image God and they must at all times strive to live out their lives with this knowledge.  That means we love and respect everyone because each human being has part of God inside.  The Latin term for the image of God is “imago Dei” and the action of performing virtuous acts is “imitation Dei.”  While the Latin terms may sound Christian, they are based in the idea that we are on a journey to search for the ultimate good in ourselves and the world. In both Christian and Jewish thought repairing of the world (tikkum olam in Hebrew) is a part of using our power, wisdom and resources to work toward constant improvements.

Q>  Wow!  The academy is not a religious community.  How does this translate to a college?

A> First we need to create a culture of trust.  We must create an institutional culture that shows respect for everyone.  We must learn from each other --from the youngest freshman to the most senior professor emeritus.  Second we must higher faculty and staff who are dedicated to making this institution, our community and the world in general a better place. Academic preparation is important, but also belonging to a community is important.  The concept of community is one of the reasons we join professional organizations and publish papers and books.

When I trust my staff and they trust their staff we can work toward the creating of common goals.  The rules of ethics are external to the organization and make sure we are on the path to the greater good.  If someone does not how the belief demonstrated by actions to a greater good, I don’t want them here because they will not be good team members.  People who are respected, listened to, and compensated fairly will make the best employees.  If we have great teachers and staff the students will learn not only the subject of the classes, but how to be better human beings. 

Ethics are the basis for creating better teams. Teams work on common goals. Teams need leaders. In the next article I’ll talk more about leadership.


*Part thirteen of an imaginary interview with the president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental