Over the past few years, the world has experienced rapid transformations in all sectors of the society. The transformations, in turn, have brought about changes in the relations among science, ethics and professional practice (Tavani, 2003). The scientific advancement has been a complex evolution which involves social, ethical, and political factors acting jointly. Though science has found its place in the modern world, its limits are still questionable. In the past, the progress of humanity was measured by the increase of morality, justice and equality in individual countries as well as among countries and not by the isolated advancement in scientific knowledge, which has the ability to destroy humanity. In the modern world, science has become dominant and what it produces does not necessarily interest humanity (Tavani, 2003). Therefore, advancement of science and technology does not always come with moral development.
One of the professional practice areas that have developed rapidly over the years has been the field of computer science. Though the work of computer scientist may sometimes seem distant from reality, they have quite a lot to do with everyday reality. Computer scientists develop a surveillance system that monitors almost every space, they design privacy tools in the digital sphere, identify the vulnerabilities of a digital system, and offer technical assistance in day-to-day activities in the workplace (Himma & Tavani, 2008). Despite the benefits that the above undertakings can bring, when done incorrectly they can result in a morality problematic situation. Morality comprises of habits, behaviors, and customs. Through morality, humans can examine the basis and validity of certain social values, therefore, judge whether they are wrong or right (Williams, 2012). Since ethics have a deep relationship with values, and morality questions the validity of social values, then, though distinct, ethics and morality are inseparable.
A morality and ethically problematic situation in the professional practice of computer science can be best understood through a case study. A real case study in which a technician found pornography on the computer of the Harvard Divinity School dean will be utilized in this discussion. The incident occurred in 1999 and spurred a heated debate about computer ethics. The major moral and ethical issue in the case is the privacy of employees when using computing equipment. Then again, the case study will assist in having a better understanding of the role of employers in having clear and stable policies concerning the use of computing equipment in the workplace.
As part of the privileges of being a dean at the Harvard Divinity School, the Dean resided in a home that was owned by Harvard. His home office had a Harvard-owned personal computer. Over a period of time, he downloaded loads of pornographic images to the personal computer. Reports characterized the images as explicit but ones that did not consist of child pornography (Bandler, 1999). When the computer ran out of disk space, the Dean sought the assistance of technical support staff to install for him a disk drive with larger capacity. The technical support staff then needed to transfer the old drives contents to the new disk drive.
The technician did the disk drive upgrade in three steps: he transferred the contents of the old disk to a central computer in the divinity school, installed the new disk drive, and then transferred the contents that were now in the central computer to the new disk drive. At a certain point during the upgrade, the technician noticed the pornographic content in some of the files (Bandler, 1999). There are different views as to how the discovery of the pornographic content occurred. While some report that the technician saw an image which was left by the dean on the display (Helderman & Crimson, 1999), others claim that the suggestive file names in the deans personal computer triggered the technician to open them out of curiosity and presumably to verify the contents (Bandler, 1999). Several accounts claim that the technician did not report the pornography immediately but rather had to unwillingly explain the incident when a supervisor asked why the process took so long.
The report eventually made its way to the Harvard President Neil Rudenstine since the case involved the dean of a school. The dean met with the president and they jointly agreed that he should resign as the dean of the Harvard Divinity School (Bandler, 1999). However, in public, the resignation was portrayed in terms of medical problems, for professional and personal reasons, and to spend more time with family (Bandler, 1999). There was no mention of the issue of pornography in the deans personal computer. The resolution of the resignation was apparently mutually acceptable, and no indication shows that either the dean or the university carried out a modification to it.
The two main stakeholders in the incident were the dean and the technician. The Dean has a responsibility of fulfilling the duties of his job as outlined by the institution as a whole. With this in mind, it is important to understand the policies guiding computer use in the divinity school. A key element in the schools computer policies is that staff should only use computers to carry out tasks that are related mission, public service and research of the school (Helderman & Crimson, 1999). Also, the policies prohibit staff from having abusive, inappropriate, obscene or bigoted content on the computers of the school. Before using the computer for non-university business purposes, users need explicit authorization. Apart from the school, the dean, as an ordained minister, had a responsibility to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America which has strict policies against pornography (Helderman & Crimson, 1999). Finally, the Dean had a responsibility of ensuring wellness for his family, and the incident may have caused embarrassment to his family. The technician, on the other hand, also had several responsibilities. One of the key responsibility was to ensure that he performed the job as efficient as possible. Such a responsibility could have related to the technicians need to look at how space was used on University computers and take note of users who violated the computer use policies (Bandler, 1999). Another responsibility of the technician is offering technical support to staff members.
Based on the responsibilities of the two key stakeholders, there exists a morally problematic situation in terms of the professional practice of the two. On one hand, the dean violated ethical policies in his professional capacity hence resulting in questioning his professional standing (Helderman & Crimson, 1999). On the other hand, the technician can be considered to have violated the privacy and confidentiality of the Dean (Helderman & Crimson, 1999). Nonetheless, they both had to uphold the moral and ethical principles of the University. The Dean caused a morally problematic situation in his professional practice by having inappropriate and obscene content on the university personal computer. Therefore, the incident had the ability to change how colleagues, students, and staff interacted with the Dean as a result of his damaged professional reputation. The incident put the technician in a dilemma of whether to report the case or not. Factors that may support the technician to avoid reporting the case include the idea of embarrassing the dean and alienating the Dean could affect the employment status of the technician. Then again, the technician had the obligation of reporting the Dean since he was violating the policies guiding the use of computers in the institution and if someone else had discovered the content, then the technician would be blamed for not reporting the case. Considering all these facts leads to the conclusion that the technician was right in reporting the incident since the Dean was clearly violating the computer use policies of the institution. The violations of the policies outweighed the deliberations of the deans privacy.
It is not enough for professionals to understand the concepts relating to their practice but also moral and ethical principles that guide their activities. As the use of computers become more prevalent in the modern world, computer morals and ethics become more important in professional practice (Tavani, 2003). Though employers formulate appropriate policies for the ethical use of computers, proper understanding of the concepts of morality and ethics is important in making professionals have a better understanding of how to conduct themselves hence adopt the relevant professional practice in their field of expertise. Such a move will allow individuals to know how to judge other peoples conduct, how to understand their roles, and how to identify and deal with the moral and ethical issues that may during the process of carrying out daily duties (Williams, 2012). Thus, individuals will avoid bias, conflict of interest or undue processes in such incidences.
Moral and ethics are inseparable and should be at the core of any organizations operations. When professionals find themselves in a state of ethical or moral tension, an institution should utilize its code of ethics to provide council to the affected individuals (Williams, 2012). The existence of these code of ethics provides a foundation for institutions to develop programs that are aimed at instilling moral and ethical understanding in individuals. A balance between principle-driven approach and case-based approach for successful moral and ethical training in institutions. Apart from professionals who are already practicing, moral and ethical training is important to students to allow them to gain awareness of morals, values and ethical principles needed in the professional practice of their field (Himma & Tavani, 2008). Therefore, the curriculum should be modelled while considering moral, values and ethical principles.
The distinction and sufficient understanding of concepts, especially those of morality and ethics, is particularly useful in assisting individuals to have a better reflection in adopting moral and ethical behaviors well-suited with an adequate professional practice in any field. In fact, having an adequate understanding of theoretical concepts of morality and ethics will lead to the perception that it is appropriate to carry out professional duties while keeping moral values in mind. Considering that moral behaviors are not inborn in humans, that learning process occurs in phases which are essentially connected with the progressive development of reasoning and affection, it is necessary for an individual to have a discourse that goes well with the acquisition of self-sufficient morality, before joining any field of professional practice. Nevertheless, if individuals have not yet reached moral maturity, it is important to emphasize the various social educational paradigms so as to improve moral and ethical behavior in professional practice. The process is essential since advancement in technology and the modern globalized world need, now more than ever, moral and ethical professionals who act responsibly, sensibly, and are committed to human values.
Bandler, J. (1999). Harvard ouster linked to porn: Divinity School Dean questioned. The Boston Globe.
Helderman, R. & Crimson, J. (1999). Porn Discovery Led to Div. School Dean's Fall Resignation | News | The Harvard Crimson. Thecrimson.com. Retrieved 13 November 2016, from http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1999/5/21/porn-discovery-led-to-div-school/?page=2
Himma, K. E., & Tavani, H. T. (Eds.). (2008). The handbook of information and compu...
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