Our "What would you do?" column is a forum for sharing your knowledge and experience in dealing with the softer (though some may say harder) side of computer support: ethics. I’ll present a scenario that requires more than a technical solution. Each situation will be an accurate description of an actual event, with the names and other identifying factors changed to protect the innocent—and sometimes not so innocent. In four weeks, I’ll present feedback from the community members and the actual outcome.
In today’s installment of “What would you do?” we’ll present the responses to our inaugural article, "An IT pro's school-system job is a lesson in poor ethics." Then, at the end of this article, you can check out our latest ethical dilemma and offer your advice.
A school system fails Ethics 101
In our first installment in this series, an IT pro was battling a flawed school system that was flagrantly and inappropriately misusing e-mail and the Internet. With the exception of a few dissenting voices, most readers were in agreement that even if it costs the IT coordinator his job, he is under a moral obligation to do something in order to protect the children from further harm. Among the most popular suggestions for what he should do were the following:
- Leak the story to the press.
- Get the support of some trusted parents.
- Report the issue to an authority external to the school or school district.
- Take the issue to the school board and then the district.
- Document and gain support internally.
The extent to which the IT coordinator should attempt to protect himself was a matter of some controversy. Some members felt that his protection wasn’t an issue. Bill Wynne wrote, “Consequences to one's career aren't a consideration at all. These predators need to be removed from environments where minors rely on them and trust them. PERIOD!!!”
Other members felt it would be more prudent to make sure the IT coordinator was in no way liable. Several members strongly urged the coordinator to get a lawyer, document everything he found, and secure the network. Members also raised the question of whether any computer/Internet usage policies were in effect. If these policies were in place, they could be used to protect him and to bring the necessary action against the offenders. It was generally agreed that if the coordinator did blow the whistle, even if he was in the right, his chances of retaining his current position were slim to none.
Not a happy ending
So, what did the school district’s technology coordinator actually do? Here is his account of the steps he took to try to resolve the situation:
“I continued to go to administration with my numerous concerns. In addition, other teachers began reporting to administrators that students were accusing both the teacher and the principal of sexual inappropriateness in and out of the classroom. The resource officer attempted to investigate, but the school board contacted the local police and the investigation was squelched. I was then warned that the problem would be handled in-house and that I was not to make any additional reports to outside authorities. Both the resource officer and I agreed, but asked that the teacher and principal not be allowed to chaperone students until the issue was resolved. When this did not happen, and the teacher and principal were chaperoning students on overnight in-state and out-of-state trips, I threatened to contact the state authorities. I was summarily fired.”
“Although I have filed suit, this is of little comfort. I have found that the problems continue and that the district has failed time after time to report the abuse problems to legal authorities. I have met with Health and Welfare as well as law enforcement, and the investigation is ongoing. However, I have found it impossible to get another job and have been told by prospective employers that the district is telling them that I am 'mentally unstable.'
“In the year that I was with the district, I brought in nearly $350,000 in grant funding. I also brought in nearly $400,000 in donations. I set up three labs and repaired the community hall so that the school could provide adult education classes in a town where the timber industry is no longer providing jobs for its citizens. I brought the district into compliance with state and federal laws to ensure that the schools received funding that had been nearly lost. I am proud of the job that I have done for both districts—although it saddens me that these districts were, and are now, more concerned with their image than with the safety and well being of their children. I have chosen not to return to the K-12 environment because of this and am now working as a consultant. However, I miss working with the kids, and even more, I miss making a difference in my chosen profession.”
The next ethical dilemma: An IT faker plays in-house
“On-site, we have a person who has an AA in computer science but is not a member of the IT department, of which I am the manager. In his division, he has convinced everyone that he knows more than our department. He makes many configuration changes to his division’s computers without our permission or knowledge. It is only when he is confronted with a problem that he cannot resolve that the IT department is called in. We usually go in 'blind,' not knowing what has or has not been done. He never shares his 'knowledge' or 'mistakes' with us. At one time, he even loaded a second OS on a PC, making the system a dual boot system. He had no one's permission on-site to do this, but because he has been doing it for so long, he has set a difficult precedent for us to challenge. I have tried to present a case to his boss, the VP of manufacturing, to take away his administrative rights, but I was shot down. Despite my attempts to remain impersonal, I was merely told that I was 'becoming a control freak trying to build a kingdom.'
“I am at my wit’s end. This person creates more problems than I have resources to deal with and is determined to make us look bad.”
What would you do?
After reading this scenario, if you have ideas about how a satisfactory resolution might be achieved, send them to us. Don’t hold back, and don't be afraid to be creative. And if you've ever encountered a similar situation, we're particularly interested in hearing the steps you took to reach a resolution.
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of each column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.