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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Make Your Code of Ethics Matter

Make Your Code of Ethics Matter

"If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization."


Traditionally, codes of ethics are either aspirational, inviting certain behaviors, or prohibitive, limiting certain behaviors.  In concert with mission and vision statements, codes of ethics tend to evoke certain core values and virtues of an organization. Values pertain to central principles and norms governing behaviors, while virtues are best understood as good habits. An ethics code invites its adherents to manifest stated virtues and values for the benefit of the organization.

  1. Does your organization have a written code of ethics? What is the written text of your code?*
  2. How do you currently incorporate your ethics code into the daily functioning of your organization? Do most members of the organization know about and identify with the code?
  3. What virtues and values are outlined by your code of ethics? Are they explicitly listed, or are they implied?
  4. Is your organization currently facing any difficult decisions or ethical problems that could benefit from the guidance of your code of ethics?
  5. What is the most frustrating ethical experience you have had on student government? Does the existing code of ethics speak to or help guide this experience?
  6. Are there a few particular values that you think are most important to embody as a member of your student government right now?
  7. What values, as articulated in the code of ethics, does your organization as a whole currently embody? What values should you focus more energy on improving? Are there certain values that you think members have a hard time living up to?
  8. Are there important values you currently embody or hope to embody that are not expressed in the code of ethics?
  9. What values do you think your specific branch or committee embodies? What values do you need to work on?
  10. Do different values seem particularly relevant for certain branches? Do the values of a legislative position differ from executive, judicial, or finance positions?
  11. How can you make to code more present or more relevant to normal operations?
  12. How do we hold members accountable to the code? Should we use the code as a part of disciplinary proceedings?
  13. How, as executive members, do you balance different values in the code (responsibility, commitment vs. flexibility) when proceeding in the disciplinary process with members of your organization?
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