Blog: Legal and moral

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By Richard Parcia Here is a tale I love retelling, over and over again. A popular professor of a Catholic university was suspected of having a homosexual relationship with a student enrolled in his class. The affair made tongues to wag wildly inside the campus, threatening the mores and customs of an institution not used to such indiscretions. The authorities were worried because, while not stranger to the sexual upheavals of the century, such type of relationship involving a teacher and a student, violated the ethical requirements of the teaching profession. A teacher is required to follow this ethical standard and a person holding a professorial rank, considered the highest teaching rank, is not only expected to follow this rule, but to serve as a model, too. Since the nasty rumor had gone around the campus, the deans and chairs of the whole university were called by the rector for a meeting with only one agenda ? and that was to address the issue. Often times, such issues are dealt with by the departments on their own. After all, all universities have their own sex scandals. However, this is a special case that needs special attention. All aspects of the issue should be considered and every move should be calculated. Any wrong move might offend those who hold traditions important or make the institution open to attacks of bigotry and homophobia. A decision seen as conservative might provoke cries of religious fanaticism and a condemnation of any right wing idea may be viewed as tyrannical, ancient, and obsolete. On the other hand, a liberal decision will estrange the institution from those who feel that traditions are there to remind the current generation of any pitfalls that will come their way. To succumb to the pressure of the modernist is to betray scholasticism and the traditions that come that go along with it, which is the very foundation of learning for any university of their nature. The majority of those who are on this side are from the alumni who votes in hard currency. In the meeting with the authorities, it was decided that an investigation should take place. To protect those who are involved from embarrassment and to avoid making a circus out of the issue, the process will be hush-hush. A committee was to be created that will be chaired by the rector himself, and will be composed of personalities that are considered stakeholders: a dean, a professor, a student, the human resources head, the alumni association head, and the IT director. The involvement of the IT director is conspicuous because of one reason ? presumably, because it is the electronic age, there will be evidence that are electronic in nature. No stones will be left unturned. No details will be left out. The cause of justice is at hand and the moves will be surgical. All systems go, until the first task of the investigation was ordered. The order was for the IT director to open in secret the email box of the players who were involved. It was so ordered without the knowledge of the ones who were being accused so as not to jeopardize the search for illicit letters that will serve as evidence for the committee. This is not seen as irregular by all of the parties who were involved with the investigation. After all, the mailbox is owned by the school, therefore, everything in it is its property. This rule has been acknowledged and understood by anybody who signed their employment papers. This rule is a cross industry standard. Was the committee correct in giving such order? Was the IT director bound to do it? Is it legal? Is it moral? I often use this case as the final exam in a graduate course in information systems. If any of my current students are reading my corner, this will be giveaway. I often require them to justify their answers with references, both legal and non-legal, philosophical and non-philosophical. As it is often with these type of questions, there are no completely wrong or completely right answers. The one who can give the better justification, will be the one who can get the much coveted grade of 1.0 In my own opinion, and this is not much of a giveaway, there are two things that needs to be satisfied before the order can be seen as justifiable. And my approach to it does not only apply to the order but should be taken as a question towards the whole process. The moral underpinning of transparency is truth. Truth, contrary to perversion, is not relative. To make it subjective is to bastardize it. The only way to truth is through charity. You need to love it, to serve it. To serve it, one needs to love it. As applied to the case, the mere fact that the players were not informed of the order necessarily means that have not acceded to it and therefore grossly immoral. That?s like lifting someone?s skirt because the person is wearing an issued uniform. It is affront to personal freedoms and no person should be deprived of them. We don?t stop there as it will be an injustice to do so. The second thing that needs to be satisfied is that transparency is also required from the players once the first one is satisfied. The satisfaction of the first requirement gives the chance to other side to express their love for the truth by not hiding behind one?s personal freedom. To hide behind it is tantamount to giving a finger to the very institution that allowed that personal freedom to exist. It deprives the institution the same rights that personal freedoms find non-negotiable. The IT director, in the case, has the technical capability to do what is being asked. But the issue is not a technical issue. It is a moral issue. I?ll stop there or else a resourceful student will have a free ride over the finals. It is obvious where I found the inspiration to retell this case in this corner. I am not a legal expert but the treatment of the moral issues is cross-sectional. Moral standards are not bound by professional tenets. In fact, it is the reverse. Not doing so is the prostitution of the profession. Of all people, the Chief Justice, should know these things. I believe he does, lest his education is naught. I only wish that his acts are guided by these because history is full of morality tales. Those tales were not judged by legalese ? they were judged based on moral principles whose meanings were only important when invoked in times of inconvenience. He owes it the institution he represents. He owes it to those who were dragged into this imbroglio. He owes it to himself. He owes it to the truth.]]>

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