Ethics Versus Following The Rules: Katharine Hamilton And Ethics

Government & Politics Blog

When each institution is permitted to write its own rules of ethics as well as decide how to prosecute ethics violations, it should be no surprise that ethics is a nebulous concept at best. When looking at the allegations that Katharine Hamilton breached the College of DuPage's code of ethics, you have to consider whether the school's rules of ethics are ethical. 

A Brief Look at Civil Disobedience

Many people define ethical behavior as abiding by the rules. However, while respect for authority is appropriate when that authority is deserving of respect, the whole of human history should illustrate that the ruling authority can be corrupt. What then is to be done when a person in power abuses that power? Henry David Thoreau suggests, "It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." This is the standard the public should use to determine if Hamilton acted inappropriately. 

What are the Allegations?

An internal College of DuPage audit found that Hamilton endorsed candidates for the COD board of trustees and worked on their campaigns "while in her official capacity as a trustee." This would seem to imply that while on the clock as a trustee or while on college property, Hamilton advocated for electing certain candidates versus others, which is the attorney general's standard for determining ethical violations of an elected official in terms of campaign participation. What evidence did the internal audit use to support the allegations against Hamilton? Her title was used in campaign literature. In other words, those running for office referenced Hamilton in their campaign literature. So is she accountable for their actions? Other allegations include comments she made on her Facebook page—not while speaking at an official meeting of the board or while on campus, but on her personal page. 

Ethical Analysis

According to Hamilton, the leadership at COD was embroiled in corruption before her tenure, and her goal while a member of the board was to fight that corruption in order to improve the College of DuPage. To apply Thoreau's basic principle for civil disobedience, a person holds no allegiance to a corrupt authority. Thus, before Hamilton should be held accountable for the allegations made in the COD audit, it should be determined if the board was indeed corrupt. Furthermore, what Hamilton does on her own time as a private citizen is not a misuse of authority according to the attorney general's guidelines. Besides, any attempt to regulate her speech outside of her official duties would be a violation of her freedom of speech and therefore unconstitutional and unethical.

In conclusion, there is much to consider in the Hamilton case. There are those who paint her as a champion of justice who, in her efforts to fight corruption, incurred the wrath of the leadership she opposed. There are also those who paint her as a self-interested politician who used her position at the College of DuPage to further her own personal political ambitions. Suffice it to say that for the sake of justice, the allegations of corruption against the leadership at COD are at least as deserving of judicial inquiry as their allegations against Hamilton.


12 May 2016

Getting More Involved

Everyone is different, which is why I didn't care much for politics until a few years ago. However, after I purchased my house, I realized that the property taxes were going to kill me if I didn't work hard to fix things. I started paying more attention to how our local government ran, and I decided that it might be smart to start spending a little more time in the political arena. I ran for city council, and to my surprise, I made it. This blog is all about the importance of getting more involved and what you can do to change your community for the better.