Sunday, June 30, 2013

Should colleges pay athletes to play?



Should college athletes be paid to play sports at school? That's what a reader who is a student at a Division I NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college in southwest Florida wants to know.

He's not alone in asking the question and it's a reasonable one to ask. As the reader points out, "universities pile up millions of dollars thanks to their athletic programs that are boosted by these student athletes with their talents. Yet the universities refuse to pay them."

If rewarding the students for bringing in cash to the university is not enough of a reason, my reader wonders how these student athletes can be expected to take on paying jobs outside of sports given that "their sports obligations and educational responsibilities keep them from having the time to do so."

The reader believes that instead of scrutinizing these student athletes to try to catch them doing wrong by taking a gift from a booster or cash as an incentive, "we should take the reasonable measure of giving them a modest salary so at least they can survive their time in college."

"When," he asks, "does this debate stop being ethical and instead become one about an essential need for their daily survival?"

Colleges whose athletic programs fall within Divisions I and II of the NCAA can offer scholarships to athletes, but NCAA rules forbid paying them a salary to play a sport. (Division III colleges, typically smaller schools, cannot offer athletic scholarships under NCAA rules.) So it's not as if all athletes at these schools are struggling for daily survival.

The question then really doesn't seem to be about "an essential need for their daily survival." If it is, then athletic scholarships can address that need for some athletes.

The question seems more about whether it's the right thing for student athletes to be paid to play, particularly given how much money is made off of their athletic performances.

Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, has made it clear where he stands on the issue by posting a comment on the organization's website. "As long as I'm president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports. Compensation for students is just something I'm adamantly opposed to."

He goes on to draw a distinction between amateur athleticism on the college level and professional sports. "We're providing athletes with world-class educations and world-class opportunities. If they are one of the few that are going to move on to become a pro athlete, there's no better place in the world to refine their skills as a student-athlete."

It would indeed be unfair if some universities paid their college athletes salaries and others didn't. Adhering to the same set of guidelines -- agreeing on how it is they will behave when they play sports together -- is the right thing to do.

If enough of the member colleges and universities believe that not paying student athletes is wrong or unfair, they should lobby the NCAA to change. Until it does, there is nothing wrong with not paying accomplished college athletes. They might not get rich from their performances, but the likelihood that they'll go hungry is small. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinhttps://twitter.com/jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Send your ethics stories and questions...

For the weekly newspaper ethics column I write for the Tribune Media Services Syndicate called "The Right Thing," I am always looking for stories of ethical challenges, dilemmas, and perplexing situations. If you have such a story or question based on an incident and would like it to be considered for the column, please email it to me at rightthing@comcast.net. 

Please make sure to include enough details about the story, the issue that you're wrestling with, and your name and the city and state or province where you are located. Include a way for me to contact you. 

If you know of others who might have interesting stories, please forward this on to them by clicking on the envelope below. 

Thanks in advance for your stories.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To give or not to give to student activities?



A couple of years ago, after I started teaching at a newcollege, a group of students asked if I would go to lunch with them. When the bill came, I assumed we'd be splitting the check, since I'm not in the habit of taking money or gifts from students currently enrolled in my class. One of my students quickly surmised that I wasn't aware that the school had a program that funded students to take their professors to lunch. The number of students who can attend each lunch, the amount each can spend and the number of lunches each student can engage in during the semester is limited. But professors can go as often as the invites come and their schedules allow.

It's fairly common for students to want to spend time with professors outside of class to discuss issues that go beyond the material being studied. How to do this over a meal without an awkward discussion of who pays is a challenge. Splitting the bill is a good option, but that puts professors and students in the position of having to pay out of their own pockets, which could get pricey.

The take-your-professor-to-lunch program is a good system. It gives cash-strapped students a free meal and allows for informal discussions outside of the classroom. More importantly, any perception that students are spending their own cash to curry favor with a professor is taken off the table.

Public grammar and secondary schools typically don't have such programs. But there are often strict restrictions on gift-giving from parents and students to public school teachers.

But what's appropriate when a professor wants to spend his or her own money on a student? Is that ever appropriate?

A reader from Boston recently began teaching as an adjunct professor at an area college. Toward the end of the semester the a capella singing group to which one of his students belonged, launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise funds.

He would like to support the project, but he points out that the deadline for giving funds is three days earlier than the final date on which grades must be submitted for the class she is taking with him.

"Would it be a conflict of interest for me to donate to this group?" he asks.

I don't see the conflict of interest. The class is done and he's not seeking anything in return for his potential donation through Kickstarter. He could, of course, submit his grades earlier so that the donation occurs after that, but that doesn't make it any better or worse of a decision.

The right thing is for the reader to give to any cause he finds worthy as long as he's not trying to curry favor with any current students. The challenge, of course, comes in where to draw the line since it would likely be impossible to fund every student effort that arises. But again, making those choices is up to the reader. As long as the contribution doesn't affect the work in class and is not establishing an inappropriate relationship, it's up to him how to spend his money ... and he can do so with a clear conscience. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinhttps://twitter.com/jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Finders not always keepers



Should you expect to be thanked when you do the right thing? And if you know someone has done the right thing when it directly relates to you, should you make sure to thank them?

A secretary who works in the main office of a large high school in the Midwest is the official tender of the high school's lost and found.

"I can't tell you how many students bring in cash they find in halls, doorways and parking lots," she writes. "Last school year, I was given over $200 by students who found cash on school grounds and wanted to do the right thing. Almost none of them asked if they could claim the found cash if no one asked for it."

The school secretary believes the finders were motivated by empathy, namely, "How would I feel if I lost this amount of cash?"

Some of the money gets returned, but some is loaned out to hungry students who have forgotten lunch money. They sign IOUs and most of them, the secretary reports, repay the loan within a few days. Some of the unclaimed money is used for an annual gift drive to buy holiday gifts for homeless children in the school district.

Students who turn in the found money don't do it for the thanks or a reward, the secretary says, but because they've built a culture at the school where they know it's the right thing to do.

Still, when someone's money is returned and he knows who returned it, what's the proper course of action?

Another reader from the Midwest dropped his wife off at the movie theater. He then handed her money to buy tickets from the bank envelope he was still carrying from the day before when he had made a withdrawal. Instead of putting the money back into his pants pocket, he put it in the chest pocket of his coat. The next day, when he went to get the money to go buy groceries, he realized it was gone.

Figuring it must have fallen out of his coat's chest pocket at the movie theater, he stopped by to ask if anyone had found the envelope. He told the manager what movie they had seen and that there had been approximately $450 in the envelope.

The manager checked and, sure enough, a young man had found the money and turned it in.

"He could have rejoiced at finding the money, but he turned it in," the reader writes. He left a $20 reward for the young man. "I could not imagine not thanking him in some way."

The young man may not have expected anything in return for doing the right thing. But the reader takes joy that the young man was not "so jaded or self-centered that he couldn't imagine what it might have been like to lose something valuable himself."

The students at the high school regularly do the right thing by turning in what is not theirs in hopes it will find its rightful owner. So did the young man at the theater. And the gentleman who had his lost $450 returned also did the right thing by graciously thanking the young man. They each behaved in a manner that suggests there is some agreement on the right thing to do, even when you don't have to do it. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinhttps://twitter.com/jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Grading students on the merits



A reader in Columbus, Ohio, drew my attention to a story about a high school English teacher in Denton, Texas, who gave his students an assignment to write about a topic of their choice. One student wrote about a gun show. The teacher reportedly threatened to give the student a zero for the assignment, if he did not change his topic.

As the local Fox News affiliate reported, that student's mother expressed her disapproval with the teacher's response to her son's essay. The teacher maintained that he found the paper unacceptable because of his concerns about school violence. The mother maintained that her son's paper made no mention of firing guns, it simply reported on his gun show attendance.

Ultimately, the school district issued a statement to Fox News that read: "The teacher has accepted the paper and apologized to the student for misperceptions. The teacher's intent was for guns not to be trivialized in any school situation because of recent events."

My reader in Columbus wants to know if the teacher was right to threaten to give the student a zero.

"Does a teacher grade on content, style, or personal feelings?" my reader asks.

Say a teacher wants students to write about gay marriage, my reader continues. One student writes that he is opposed to gays getting married, while the teacher is in favor of gay marriage. "How should the student be graded? If the student did an excellent job in presenting his argument, should the teacher give him an A for composition, and an F because the student is wrong due to prejudice?"

Some challenging situations in the classroom can be avoided by intelligent construction of assignments. If the Texas teacher wanted to put parameters around what his students could and couldn't write about, then giving such a broadly worded assignment as writing on a topic of your choice was not particularly effective. Once the assignment was worded that way, it was only fair for the teacher to grade the essay based on its merits as an essay.

There was no indication that the student wrote about issues that presented a danger to classmates, teachers, staff or the school. The right thing would have been for the teacher to grade the essay based on the strength of the writing rather than on the topic.

The same goes for an essay on gay marriage. If a teacher asks students to write essays on gay marriage, he should be prepared for essays that might take a stance for or against the issue, regardless of his position. The grading should be based on how well the position was argued and how well the essay was written.

There are times when it's appropriate for students to be graded based on the stance they take on an issue. In school debates, students often draw lots to decide who will take which side of an argument. In such cases, it's perfectly reasonable to grade a student based on his stance, for example, on background checks for gun owners or the legalization of gay marriage.

But barring such circumstances, if an English teacher assigns an essay to gauge how a student can write, then the right thing is for him to either be specific about the assignment or to be prepared to entertain a whole swath of examples if he isn't. The teacher's focus should be on strengthening the students' thinking and writing, not on getting him to think like he does. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinhttps://twitter.com/jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


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