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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Values and Codes


An initial step in creating a code of ethics, or in any ethical practice endeavor by an organization, is to identify and define a set of values that represent the ethical ideals, mission, and vision of the organization.

In outlining values, it is important to include a definition of the value, to clarify the meaning for employees or organization members. It is also helpful to incorporate examples of the ways in which a value may be applied to the organization, in this case, the way the value may be practically enacted in student government.

On this site, we have defined and provided examples for 12 values that we find are particularly salient to student government conduct. They include:



The quality or state of being accountable; especially :an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.

What makes for an accountable student government?

  • Accurate and consistent reporting of student government endeavors, issues, and outcomes.
  • Regular performance review and evaluation of all members of the organization.

Executive Board

  • Hold open meetings and publish minutes.
  • Evaluate the implementation of policies and events. Report on the areas in which these excel or require improvement.
  • Set expectations for performance and uniformly enforce them.


  • Regularly communicate with student constituents on social media and through other mediums, particularly about the progress made on projects and initiatives.
  • Provide explanation for any inability to address student needs and desires.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes and work to correct them.

What has your student government done to embody accountability?



The act of working with another group to create, produce, or implement a plan, event, or policy initiative.

What makes for a collaborative student government?

  • Maintain regular contact with other student organizations.
  • Invite other campus groups, departments, faculty, staff, and student organizations to participate in relevant events or initiatives.

Executive Board

  • Connect with the executive board of other student organizations to share concerns, generate ideas, and create joint initiatives or events.
  • Foster collaboration between different branches or positions within student government.


  • Solicit feedback from campus partners on all initiatives and legislation that may create change outside student government.
  • Engage students from the wider university community in debates or initiatives.

What has your student government done to embody collaboration?



A promise to do or give something, to be loyal to something or someone. The attitude of someone who works very hard to accomplish something or support a cause, organization, or issue.

What makes a committed student government?

  • Set clear goal and objectives.
  • Outline a time frame for accomplishments and projects.
  • Pursue difficult projects to their completion.
  • Provide additional resources and opportunities to groups whose requests cannot be fulfilled.

Executive Board

  • Facilitate goal setting for student government as a whole.
  • Monitor the progress of the organization’s objective achievement.
  • Maintain an awareness of your positions responsibilities throughout the year.


  • Attend student government events outside your typical purview.
  • Reach out to constituents on social media, at events, and on campus.
  • Publicly post your goals, initiatives, plan for implementation, and your progress toward accomplishment.

What has your student government done to embody commitment?



The sympathetic awareness or understanding of another’s situation and the desire to take action to alleviate it.

What makes for a compassionate student government?

  • An awareness of marginalized groups on campus.
  • Active efforts to advocate for or particularly address the needs of marginalized students.
  • Engage all student demographic groups on campus, particularly those less represented in the demographics of student government.

Executive Board

  • Promote an environment of activism in student government.
  • Encourage an inclusive perspective in the assessing and addressing of student needs.


  • Active engagement with the entire student body, soliciting student concerns and difficulties through focus groups, surveys, and conversation.
  • Particular attention paid to student demographics not represented in the Senate body, and an effort to address their concerns.
  • Addressing student needs and difficulties through new initiatives, legislation, advocacy, and programming.

What has your student government done to embody compassion?



Marked by honesty and impartiality; free from self-interest, prejudice, and favoritism; conforming to established rules or regulations.

What makes for a fair student government?

  • Wide consultation on initiatives and plans, and the solicitation of diverse perspectives.
  • Respect for opposing viewpoints in debate, issue portrayal, and legislative creation.
  • Diligently observe the established procedures of governing documents.

Executive Board

  • Open, unbiased application processes for all appointed positions.
  • Acknowledge and provide credit to those who assist in the implementation of platform and policy initiatives.


  • Allow for free expression in senate or legislative body meetings.
  • Actively solicit all sides of the issue to present their perspective in debates.
  • Withhold judgment and decisions until all relevant information has been presented.

What has your student government done to embody fairness?



Characterized by an ability to adapt to new, different, or changing environments; a willingness to change or compromise.

What makes for a flexible student government?

  • Make an effort to reevaluate decisions in light of unforeseen circumstances or new information. 
  • Reconsideration of policies, procedures, and governing documents in order to uphold the fundamental mission, goals, and efficacy of student government.

Executive Board

  • Solicit feedback and new ideas through performance reviews, focus groups, and surveys.
  • Remain open to recommendations for improvement from administrators, outside groups, and other members of student government.
  • Explore the possibility of new initiatives and policies, despite difficulties they may pose.


  • Willingness to utilize diverse methods to communicate with different student demographics.
  • Openness to new discussion, debate, and amendments as new information arises.

What has your student government done to embody flexibility?



The skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected of a person who has been trained to do a job well; the confidence, skill, or efficiency expected of a professional.

What makes for a professional student government?

  • Clearly stated performance expectations, tools for evaluation, and consequences for underperformance.
  • Preparation for all meetings and events, including reading any materials beforehand and formulating questions or concerns.
  • Address student concerns, email conversations, and requests in a timely manner.

Executive Board

  • Maintain professionalism, even when it is not reciprocated.
  • Address conflict quickly and by addressing the individual or individuals involved directly.


  • Welcome guests at meetings and provide undivided attention to their presentations.
  • Speak respectfully and responsibly, without profanity or sarcasm.

What has your student government done to embody professionalism?



The quality or state of being responsible; having the job or duty to take control over or care for someone or something; the state or fact of being accountable for something; the opportunity to act independently and make decisions without authorization; to be able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations.

What makes for a responsible student government?

  • Implement and emphasize a code of ethics and values.
  • Stipulate integrity in both public and private life of members with a conduct code.
  • Encourage ownership of actions or decisions that were not taken (and should have been) or that produced negative consequences.

Executive Board

  • Clearly articulate how decisions advance the organization’s core values, and encourage other members to do the same.
  • Protect confidential information that occurs in conversations, disciplinary proceedings, or other private arenas.


  • Utilize student government materials, resources, and funding solely for purposes related to the organization and its mission.
  • Evaluate the distribution of funds, the fairness of the proceedings, and the benefits to the student body.
  • Gather the necessary information to make an informed decision.

What has your student government done to embody responsibility?



Reacting or responding quickly and positively; responding readily with interest or enthusiasm;

What makes for a responsive student government?

  • Accessibility to students, through office hours, online media presence, email communication, or other solicitation of feedback.
  • Concerted marketing efforts to alert students to upcoming events, debates, or initiatives.
  • Creation of flexible programming: forums, meetings, initiatives, or events that address current events or student needs as they arise.

Executive Board

  • Quickly respond to the concerns and requests of students, faculty, and administrators.
  • If a solution is not yet available, let invested parties know you are working toward one.
  • Embody positivity, enthusiasm, and efficiency when addressing concerns.


  • Solicit feedback and opinions from constituents on a regular basis, through a variety of communication channels.
  • Present student feedback to the legislative body in a timely manner.
  • Propose legislation, projects, or initiatives that address current student concerns.

What has your student government done to embody responsiveness?



The action of helping or doing work for someone; contribution to the welfare of others; a facility supplying a public demand.

What makes for a student government that serves?

  • Focus on the needs of the greater student body, rather than personal interests or preferences.
  • Effort to assist peers in any capacity, particularly groups that are underserved in the community.

Executive Board

  • Organize service projects with local organizations or on campus.
  • Incorporate service components into larger scale events or initiatives, i.e. donating school supplies or canned goods as an entrance fee to an event


  • Work with other student organizations or groups on campus to further their initiatives as well as your own.
  • Pay special attention to groups on campus who may be marginalized and make a particular effort to address their needs.

What has your student government done to embody service?



Unity of a group or class that produces or is based upon shared goals, interests, or standards; unity or agreement of feeling or action; mutual support within a group.

What makes for a student government that embodies solidarity?

  • Partner with other campus groups to promote their initiatives or address current issues.
  • Act as an advocate for underrepresented groups, students, or other university members with university administration.
  • Raise awareness for a variety campus concerns, not only those related to student government operations.

Executive Board

  • Foster open communication and positive relations with other campus groups.
  • Encourage cross-group organization or activism.


  • Pass resolutions highlighting current events or advocating for particular issues.
  • Provide a discussion forum at senate meetings for students to voice concerns.

What has your student government done to embody solidarity?

  • ASGSCU: We worked with the multicultural, community action organizations, and faculty members on campus to create a student forum to discuss changes that occurred to the women’s healthcare plan provided by the university. The issue was a hot topic for several months.
  • Active effort to engage and interact with the student body.
  • Open and easily accessible records, including meeting minutes, governing documents, and financial papers.
  • Regular, posted office hours.



The quality of being transparent, to be honest and open: not secretive: easy to notice or understand.

What makes for a transparent student government?

Executive board

  • Hold open meetings.
  • Publish minutes and agendas.


  • Publish meeting minutes and agendas.
  • Hold public forums for debate on upcoming issues.

What has your student government done to embody transparency?


A Code of Ethics

A code of ethics is a document of guidelines adopted by an organization that helps members conduct their actions and make decisions in accordance with the values, mission, and vision of the organization. It serves as a central guide and reference for members in day-to-day decision making.

Why develop a code of ethics?

A code of ethics and values helps to:

  • Establish a definition of appropriate/inappropriate behaviors
  • Sets a precedent for ethical expectations
  • Provide a benchmark for use during self-evaluation
  • Demonstrate a dedication to ethical concerns and appropriate practices
  • Promote professionalism, responsibility, and accountability
  • Encourage high standards of practice
  • Indicate occupational/organizational maturity
  • Support occupational/organizational identity formation
  • Foster a positive public identity and more trusting relationship with external groups or organizations

Important considerations:

  • A code of ethics should reflect the organization’s policies, controls, and processes.
  • Codes should complement other relevant standards, policies, procedures, and rules, not replace them.


Ethics Glossary

The Ethics Research Center provides a helpful ethics glossary of terms that are typically used in codes of conduct and other ethical publications.

A few definitions that are particularly salient to student government ethics code creation are listed below.

A strong desire to achieve something high or great. An aspirational code would be intended to reach a higher ethics standard that supercedes being in compliance.

Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics
A central guide and reference for users in support of day-to-day decision making. It is meant to clarify an organization’s mission, values and principles, linking them with standards of professional conduct. As a reference, it can be used to locate relevant documents, services and other resources related to ethics within the organization.

Code of Conduct
Can refer to a listing of required behaviors, the violation of which would result in disciplinary action. In practice, used interchangeably with Code of Ethics.

Code of Ethics
Often conveys organizational values, a commitment to standards, and communicates a set of ideals. In practice, used interchangeably with Code of Conduct.

Code Provisions
The specific standards of behavior and performance expectations that your organization chooses to highlight and address in your code.

Dynamic Responsibility
The world of embracing problems and challenges; knowing when to renegotiate promises made; and fostering change in the society around us. (From “The Joy in Taking Responsibility: Remarks to the Corps of Cadets, Valley Forge Military Academy & College”, April 2001, Kenneth W. Johnson)

The core beliefs we hold regarding what is right and fair in terms of our actions and our interactions with others. Another way to characterize values is that they are what an individual believes to be of worth and importance to their life (valuable).  (From “What is the Difference Between Ethics, Morals and Values?”, Frank Navran)

Values-centered Code of Ethics Offers
A set of ethical ideals, such as integrity, trust-worthiness and responsibility, which companies want employees to adopt in their work practices.

Ethics Resource Center, “Ethics Glossary,” May 29, 2009,

Helpful Websites

Ethics Web, Creating a Code of Ethics for Your Organization, Chris MacDonald, Ph.D.

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Codes of Ethics and Values, Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman

Ethics and Compliance Initiative, Why Have a Code of Conduct


Writing a Code

How To Develop a Code of Ethics for Your Student Government

In 2009-10, Santa Clara University’s student government partnered with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics to create a document that provides clear, positive statements of ethical behavior and reflects the core values of the community. From the process, a helpful How-To Guide was developed. Although it speaks specifically to the experience of ASGSCU, the guide can be adapted to account for the particular needs of your student government and provides a helpful starting point for the development of a code of ethics.


Start Thinking About a Code

A Helpful Place to Begin

1. Why would you like to create a code of ethics? What is your goal? Is the document intended to regulate behavior, set guidelines, or define purpose?

2. Does your organization have a mission or vision statement? Both are useful in guiding an organization’s actions, formulating its code of ethics and values, and defining the organization’s purpose.

3. What values are important to your organization? (See our Values section for more information)

4. What structure will best suit your needs? Many ethics codes begin with an aspirational introduction, outlining ideals the organization hopes to live up to. A list of values, rules, or principles then follows, which members are expected to behave in accordance with. Will your ethics code focus on values or outline specific behaviors?

5. Are certain principles or values of greater importance than others? It may be useful to list those values at the beginning of the code, giving them natural priority.

6. Will the new code be enforced, and if so, how?

7. What groups will you involve in the creation of your code? Students inside the organization, outside the organization, other groups on campus, faculty, staff, alumni?

8. How will you involve these groups? Survey, focus groups, individual or large group interview, debate?

9. How will the code be publicized and embraced as a foundational part of your organization? Will it be included in trainings, retreats, or initiations? What can be done to keep the code present in the organization’s daily activities?

10. How will your code be revised and kept relevant? Should it be reviewed every year, every five years, every ten years?


Existing Codes

Stetson University Student Government Association Code of Ethics

  • Focused on ethical responsibility of positions.
  • Includes both ethical principles and standards.

University of Pittsburgh Student Government Board Code of Ethics

  • Brief and to the point.
  • Values based code of ethics.

Santa Clara University

  • Values based code of ethics.