Ethics: Would You Quit Your Job Over This?

Well, we made it to Friday. Since for most this is the end of the workweek, I doubt that Friday is the day when people jump up and voluntarily quit a job. Sunday night — maybe. And that is if you’re fortunate enough to have a job if you want one at all, given our lingering high unemployment. So here’s the question. Would you quit your job over a matter of, ah, ethics?

I wrote about ethics yesterday, calling for a higher standard of conduct not just for elected officials but really for all of us. And when I was teaching a class in media ethics at Kent State, I asked students whether they would quit a job if they believed they were in a situation where they would have to compromise their ethical principles. That question always sparked considerable conversation — but no resolution since no real jobs were actually on the line.

So I read with interest this morning an article in the New York Times (“Pressure Mounting, Paterson Loses Aide and Consults Lawyer“) about Peter E. Kauffmann, who has quit his job as NY Gov. David A. Paterson’s communications director. According to the NYT, Kauffmann said he could no longer “in good conscience” continue in that role for the governor. Ouch.

The back story is that Paterson is standing in some deep doo-doo, facing allegations of ethical and perhaps other misconduct.

But back to Kauffmann — again from the NYT article:

The official, Peter E. Kauffmann, submitted his resignation the day after he was interviewed for several hours by prosecutors from the office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, which is investigating the administration’s response to a domestic violence case involving another top aide to the governor, David W. Johnson.

The inquiry is focused on whether the State Police or the governor pressured a former companion of Mr. Johnson, Sherr-una Booker, who told the New York City police that she has been beaten by Mr. Johnson, to keep quiet about the episode and not pursue an order of protection against Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Kauffmann told the investigators that he had come to doubt the veracity of what he was being instructed by the governor to say to reporters about the episode involving Mr. Johnson, people with knowledge of the investigation said. Mr. Kauffmann said he was unsure whether the governor was misleading him, or was misinformed himself, these people said.

“As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously,” he said in a statement on his resignation. “Unfortunately, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position.”

Clearly I don’t know the full story here. And because of that I’m many times reluctant to opine on these type of stories — using specific individuals to illustrate bigger points. But assuming the facts are accurate as reported, then Kauffmann serves as a concrete example of what we used to talk about in class.

You can’t compromise your integrity — your values — your credibility. Those points get to the heart of ethical conduct. And there may be situations — fortunately, I believe, not that many — where you have to make a tough decision to stay put — or resign.

Would you quit your job over a matter of ethics?

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