Santa Clara University


Cases in Business Ethics

Preparing SCU students for the ethical challenges of a career in business and fostering a broad community of ethical support both on campus and in the working world. These cases were written by Santa Clara University seniors Alexis Babb, Saayeli Mukherji, Amanda Nelson, and Noah Rickling as part of their work as Hackworth Fellows in Business Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

The following postings have been filtered by tag Non-Profit/Government. clear filter
  •  Odd One Out: Confronting Corruption in the Workplace

    Jenny recently completed her master’s degree and was extremely excited to be hired for her dream job working for the local county government. During her first year, she began to notice that funds from grants were being mismanaged and misallocated. Some of her coworkers were also using county-owned materials, including cars, for personal business.

    However, Jenny was most shocked by the hiring practices she witnessed at the office. Prospective applicants were supposed to take exams that were proctored by government employees. The results of these exams determined whether or not the applicants were hired and what they were hired for. Jenny began to notice that the proctors were allowing applicants to cheat on the tests because the applicants had already been chosen for the job. Many of these pre-chosen applicants were friends of current employees.

    Jenny reported what she witnessed to Matt, the department’s business manager, who was second-in-command to the department head. Matt told her, “You heard nothing, you saw nothing, you say nothing.” Jenny was absolutely shocked; not only by the corruption, but that it was deliberately being swept under the rug.

    Jenny felt trapped. She really needed the job to pay off loans from graduate school, and she loved the actual content of the work she was doing. She was also concerned that it would look bad to leave her first job out of school in less than a year, as well as tarnish future chances to work in government. On the other hand, she felt extremely uncomfortable in her work environment due to the culture of corruption.

    What should Jenny do?

  •  Startup Fundraising: In the Name of the Greater Good?

    Ian is Founder and CEO of a non-profit organization that helps low-income high school students prepare for higher education. He founded the organization shortly after college, and it is currently on the cusp of a major breakthrough. But like many nonprofits, the funding necessary to fuel that growth is lacking. Ian's organization is applying to a research foundation that could promise millions of dollars in funding. However, before Ian can apply, the foundation requires a formal evaluation of the group's organizational success, which must be conducted by a third party.

    The foundation requires one of the following experiments:

    1) Randomized control experiment: This type of experiment is the most scientifically valid because it allows the greatest reliability of statistical estimates of treatment effects. In the case of Ian's organization, half of a group of eligible students would be randomly selected to do the college prep program while the other half not do the program but would still be tracked. If Ian selects this method, his group would receive significantly more funding because the method is more "scientifically valid.” On the other hand, this poses an ethical dilemma because it would involve actively withholding services from half of the eligible students who would otherwise be selected.

    2) Quasi experiment: This type of experiment is an observation-based study that measures the causal impact of an intervention on a target population.  It does not require random assignment of students into treatment and control groups. All the students at a partner school would be admitted to the program, and the experiment results and statistics would be compared to historical averages of the school district, mitigating the ethical concerns raises in the randomized control experiment. However, if Ian selects this option, there will be less funding available for the program, negatively affecting the number of students that the program can reach in the future.

    What should Ian do?

  •  Startup Management: Friend or Liability?

    Edward is CEO of a nonprofit startup. He hired Charlie, a high school friend, last summer, to stabilize the company while Edward finished his degree. Charlie is from a prominent family, with a powerful network that has raised a large amount of money for Edward's nonprofit. Both Edward and Charlie are committed to the mission of helping low-income students go to college, and with this shared vision they get along well.

    Although Charlie is great at strategy formulation, Edward finds that he is poor at executing plans and taking action. Now that Edward is graduating, he wants to take the nonprofit to the next level, but is concerned about Charlie's lack of execution will hold the company back. On the other hand, Charlie made a major contribution keeping the company afloat the past year, in addition to his family's contributions, not to mention the two have been friends for some time now.

    What should Edward do?

    Posted June 2013