JANUARY 28, 2008
An uncontrollable urge to excuse unethical behavior, hypocrisy and denial are responsible for a serious ethical decline in both the public and private sectors, according to a nationally renowned expert on the subject.
Citing an appalling litany of recent government corruption scandals, ethics expert Marianne Jennings, a professor at Arizona State University, lectured public officials in a small Arizona town during an annual ethics educational program that many cities should probably consider.
Jennings told officials in Payson, located about 90 minutes north of Phoenix, that rationalizations and poor role models often make good and smart people in great cities, towns and organizations to ethically dumb things.
She recalled jailed California Congressman Duke Cunningham saying that he should have stopped at $1 million when he got caught accepting bribes rather than regret his deplorable actions altogehter. The veteran Republican lawmaker was eventually convicted for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for steering federal contracts to companies owned by friends and supporters.
Also mentioned was a scandal involving the Tucson Fire Department. When many of its members had friends punch their time cards when they left their shifts early, a union spokesman defended the illegal and unethical action saying that the firefighters were very good at their work and deserved to go home early.
The ethical lapses are also widely accepted in the private sector, which is perhaps why citizens aren’t as outraged as they should be about government corruption. More than half of high school students and around 75% of college students admit they’ve cheated on an exam in the past year, according to Jennings and 74% of employees say they’ve seen a coworker do something unethical or illegal yet most say they would never report the acts.
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