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Engineering Ethics Cases

Over the course of the 2014-2015 year, Santa Clara University School of Engineering students Clare Bartlett, Nabilah Deen, and Jocelyn Tan, working as Hackworth Engineering Ethics Fellows at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, interviewed numerous engineers and collected nearly 40 engineering ethics cases from Silicon Valley and beyond.

In this series, the best of these cases have been written, anonymized, and honed to highlight their ethical content. While these cases are meant for engineering students and professionals for their professional development, nearly all of the cases occur in the context of business, and therefore are also relevant for those seeking business ethics cases.

These cases are suitable as homework and/or for classroom discussion. The goal of this project is to acquaint engineering students and professionals with the variety of ethical experiences of engineering as practiced “in the field.” By becoming familiar with problems faced by other engineers we hope to thereby prepare those reading these cases if they too encounter difficult ethical dilemmas in their work.

The cases range from the mundane to the deadly. While we do not reveal how each particular case turned out, in general they turned out well – the people involved made the right decisions. But this is not to say that all of these right decisions came without personal cost. A few of the engineers did face negative repercussions and a very few even needed to find new employment. However, overall the interviewees were satisfied with how events turned out, even if they faced negative repercussions for their good decisions. They understood that doing the right thing is good in itself, regardless of the personal consequences they may have faced.

These cases and others on engineering ethics can be sorted according to the following categories:

The Hackworth Fellowships are made possible by a generous gift from Joan and the late Michael Hackworth.

Brian Patrick Green is Assistant Director of Campus Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and adjunct faculty in the School of Engineering of Santa Clara University