Two years ago a faculty member received a modest research grant of $100,000 from Corporation X. Now the corporation's senior vice president for research and development, a university alum and generous contributor, announces to the faculty member that the organization is contemplating a fuller, ongoing relationship with the university that could very well lead to gifts totaling in the millions of dollars. This money would provide many scholarships and assistantships for current and future students, along with funding for faculty chairs that would attract and retain top research faculty. Given the university's shaky financial situation, this is exciting news.
A few weeks later a recruiter from Corporation X contacts the faculty member and asks her to send to him the resumes of her top five students. The faculty member agrees to do so and even rank orders the students for the recruiter. The word gets out to seniors in the department and they are angry. Several meet with the career services director to register their complaint. They ask if Corporation X had listed its job with the office. The director discovers that the company has not listed the job with the office, and it has declined invitations to take part in on-campus recruiting and the fall job fair. The students are upset and believe it to be unfair since the selection of the top five was not necessarily based upon grades, but the faculty member's subjective opinion of the students.
The director takes this up with the faculty member. The faculty member points out the "facts of life" in these hard economic times. She states that this is a win-win situation. These students get service, the school gets funding. The director pursues this with the department head, then the dean, and is rebuffed with the same attitude.
Questions to consider:
- What are the ethical issues in this situation?
- What are your options? What are the pros and cons of those options?
- Is there additional information you might try to get or need in order to reach a conclusion on how to proceed?
Steps to Resolution
1. What relevant facts are known?
There are several relevant facts that frame this case. Two years after funding a faculty member at a modest level of support, Corporation X publicly announced its intention to consider a major, long-term, broadly distributed investment with the financially troubled university. A few weeks after the announcement, a recruiter from Corporation X contacted the faculty member and sought the names of her top five students. The faculty member, on her own initiative, complied. As a result, students and the career services director became upset. When confronted, the faculty member, her department head and her dean defended the faculty member's conduct. What should not be assumed as fact is a causal relationship in the sequence of events.
2. Identify the NACE Principles in question.
There are two Principles that apply to this situation: Principles for Employment Professionals Nos. 4 and 10. Number 4 reads: "Neither employment professionals nor their organizations will expect, or seek to extract, special favors or treatment which would influence the recruitment process as a result of the support, or the level of the support, to the educational institution or career services office in the form of contributed services, gifts, or other financial support." Number 10 reads: "When employment professionals conduct recruitment activities through student associations or academic departments, such activities will be conducted in accordance with the policies of the career services office."
3. What are the ethical issues in this situation?
The ethical issues in this situation center around special treatment for an employer and an undeniable appearance of favoritism towards some students by a faculty member. A collateral issue, not necessarily a moral one, may be departure from the policies of the career services office because of ignorance of its protocols.
4. What are your options?
What are the pros and cons of those options? Reflex responses to the situation could include the Career Services Director (CSD) contacting the recruiter and correcting him/her. Another might be for the CSD to request a meeting involving the dean, chair, faculty member, and to hash things out. Both of these approaches could become confrontational. Yet another would be to use a positive approach that treats the dispute as an educational opportunity for all, i.e., to learn from the experience in order to achieve greater goals and, not coincidentally, to align everyone's conduct with Career Services' practices.
In choosing options to follow, the CSD should determine a constructive course of action that will correct the problem for the long term. The problem seems rooted in ignorance rather than disdain for Career Services' procedures. Thus, the solution should focus on educating the faculty about Career Services' practices and their rationale, and the value they offer the university and employers as well.
Going to the provost, over the heads of the errant faculty member, chair and dean, will not undo the current problem and is likely to create lasting ill will. Instead, a useful resolution might be as follows:
a) The CSD could outline a constructive response and action plan and meet with his/her dean to refine it.
b) The CSD and the dean should meet with the other dean to explain the CSD's concerns in broad terms (no finger-pointing) and the proposal for going forward. It is essential that the other dean be a part of the solution.
c) The CSD might explain that the faculty member's actions, though well-intended, constitute favoritism and can harm the university by alienating students and other employers. The CSD might also explain that, among the predictors of career success in industry, academic achievement, while important, ranks no higher than sixth or seventh. Thus, it would be more productive for faculty to encourage employers to take a broader view of student achievement and not look only at academic stars. Doing so would better support the employer's long-term interests and would avoid alienating students not among the academic elite.
d) The CSD might also suggest meeting with faculty and chairs in an informal setting to explain how Career Services supports them and the university and to engage their support. The CSD might also offer to participate in the orientation program for new faculty.
e) The CSD should also consider a constructive discussion with the recruiter, who may have been acting opportunistically out of ignorance. The CSD should not assume that the recruiter was following the vice-president's instructions, since that is an unlikely scenario. While there is nothing inherently wrong with asking faculty for the names of students to interview, it is a mistake for any recruiter to let another do his/her thinking. To limit interviews only to top students actually makes it harder for the employer to recruit the right people into most jobs since most jobs do not require an employee whose principal strength is intellectual excellence. Instead, they draw on a portfolio of capabilities.
The pros and cons of those options are evident. Acting out one's frustrations rarely leads to anything useful and often create barriers to cooperation. On the other hand, openness to learning from experience and willingness to assume that most errors originate from ignorance rather than from arrogance enable the CSD to engage everyone as a contributor to a useful solution. People support plans to which they have been invited to contribute.
5. Is there additional information you might try to get or need in order to reach a conclusion on how to proceed?
Some additional information could be useful in order to reach a conclusion on how to proceed. For example, there may be ignorance of the nature of the proposed expanded relationship between the university and Corporation X. A company's direct intention in such relationships almost always deals only with obtaining intellectual property rights and promoting the company's general reputation. Greater access to top talent is an indirect intention, based on the belief that students will want to pursue careers with a highly visible and generous employer. Thus, there should be no need for the company to limit its recruiting efforts to top prospects nominated by faculty. The CSD should acquaint himself/herself with the terms of the proposed relationship to assure that they are consistent with such standards.