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Business Ethics in the News
SJSU: Corporate Transparency in High Profile Terminations
Monday, Jun. 24, 2013
After ten months since the initial accusation of sexual battery, San Jose State University (SJSU) has ended its relationship with lecturer Jeffrey Mathis. Last August, Mathis allegedly sexually assaulted a female student during a private meeting set up to discuss the student’s grade. SJSU took little action over the first nine months and refused to discuss the matter publicly; although, a university spokeswomen confirmed that there was no formal disciplinary hearing or punishment for the accusations. In response to heightened public scrutiny, spurred by a NBC Bay Area report and a student-led Change.org petition, the university has informed students “Mr. Mathis is no longer employed by SJSU.” While many are pleased with Mathis’ departure, there is growing concern over the lack of transparency in SJSU’s decision, including whether Mathis left voluntarily. In cases that raise important questions about boss-subordinate or professor-student relations, are employees or students entitled to know how the issue was resolved? Is the public entitled to an explanation of Mathis’ departure?
Kirk: Companies and universities often resolve situations informally and with no formal admission of guilt. That can be the right solution, but it can also be a cover for letting the perpetrator off easily, and can create distrust in management. It’s a close call, but I think managers have to have the ability to resolve cases quietly and informally. Remember, that in 1973, the Attorney General let Spiro T. Agnew resign as U.S. Vice President rather than prosecute him, in order that they could get him out of the line of presidential succession immediately.
Patrick: The details of this incident demand more transparency than SJSU has offered. For one, SJSU is a public institution that should be accountable not only to its students, but also the taxpayers that support it. Also, there appears to be grounds for at least investigation into criminal charges, making transparency even more critical. Incidents such as this are opportunities for institutions to “put their money where their mouth is” when it comes to mission statements and compliance agreements, and students/employees are entitled to know that they did right by the organization’s values.