Cases for Analysis

Case 1: Differential Undergraduate Tuition

Many public institutions have seen stagnant or decreasing budgets, and so are now asking students to shoulder more of the financial burden through increased tuitions. Sometimes, the amount they are being asked to pay depends on their majors. At some institutions, students in engineering and business pay more for their undergraduate degrees than students completing degrees in liberal arts or education.

The University of Wisconsin approved a tuition differential for students enrolled in the Bachelor of Business Administration program or earning a Certificate in Business beginning in fall 2007. The rationale offered for the increased tuition is that the costs of business education are rising faster than the university’s resource base and that the demand for those programs has grown and that higher tuition would help sustain the quality and expand the size of the business programs.

Higher tuition for business or engineering schools can be justified based on the higher costs of educating students in those disciplines. Business school faculty often command higher salaries than those in other colleges due to lucrative opportunities outside academia. Engineering students require expensive laboratory space and equipment, which needs to be constantly maintained and updated. The differential tuition policy can also be defended on the basis of higher starting salaries for graduates in those majors.

It can also be argued that differential tuition forces qualified students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to make career choices based on affordability, rather than aptitude or interest. This is contrary to the societal goal of providing equal access to higher education to every qualified member of the community. Moreover, students graduating from university programs that charge higher tuition may choose higher paying jobs in the private sector to pay off loans, rather than choosing service positions such as careers in public service.

Many schools including most of the Big Ten schools have a tuition differential at least for undergraduate business majors.

(From the 2007 Regional Ethics Bowl, notes omitted.)

Case 2: Intelligent Debate about Intelligent Design

Public school boards in at least 19 states have, over the past two decades, debated the teaching of “creationism” about the origins of biological species in tandem with teaching evolution. There are various creationist theories about how species came about, but all require some kind of intervention in (if not outright replacement of) natural history by a being of great power and intelligence. Frequently, this being is the Judeo-Christian God and the method of creation is as outlined in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Creationism supporters claim that teaching evolution, without offering creationist accounts as an alternative, is a denial of their Constitutional right to have their views expressed systematically in the educational system. The movement makes no effort to disguise its political motivations in its drive to include the Biblical account of creation, or some variation of it, such as “intelligent design,” in public school biology classes.

Many biology teachers in public schools and colleges happen to believe in Biblical accounts of the beginning of the universe and of life. Other biologists believe that adding the creationists’ perspective balances the consideration, gives a fair treatment to different points of view, and helps the students with their skills in critical thinking. Others, however, feel that they are being forced to violate the Constitutional separation of church and state or that they are being asked to present a non-scientific theory as biological science.

A growing number of biology teachers in the lower grades through high school have decided simply to omit evolution from their course syllabi, despite that fact that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has stated unequivocally that knowledge of the basic concepts of evolution must be included in high school science competencies. These abstaining teachers argue that they can never cover everything, so they might as well omit the topics that encourage discussion and controversy, which could endanger their jobs. School principals and superintendents have been inclined recently to support, and even to suggest, this strategy of skipping the topic of evolution. Physics and geology teachers have begun to weigh into the debate as well. They object that creationism conflicts with the big bang theory, accepted by virtually all physicists, and that some versions of creationism contend that the universe has existed for only six thousand years.

Some educational policymakers have encouraged the inclusion of “creationism vs. evolution” in literature or social science courses, rather than in biology classes where evolution currently appears in curricula. Their argument is that liberal arts courses would be more likely to study the different perspectives critically and historically, and in their sociopolitical contexts.

School boards across the country have opted for creationism in a de facto way, by selecting science textbooks only if they include creationism. Some districts require stickers appended to their biology textbooks, stating that evolution is only a theory and that there are also viable religious accounts of the origins of life. Federal suits regarding the stickers have occurred in several states. The Kansas school board has included knowledge about the concept of intelligent design as part of high school exit examinations in Kansas.

(From the 2011 Regional Ethics Bowl, notes omitted.)

Case 3: Attractiveness discrimination in hiring

The hiring process had come down to three candidates: Jamal, Tanya, and Darrell. Deliberations had been going on for three days for the teaching position and the committee was nowhere close to deciding whom to hire. The committee had to make a good choice. They were replacing a professor who had damaged the reputation of their program. His research had brought controversy to the university and he had been incredibly disagreeable to work with as a colleague. Worst of all, his students had hated him. The committee had to select someone who would win back the support of the students in the upcoming semester.

One of the committee members said, “Well I’m just going to say what everyone else is thinking: we can’t hire Darrell. The students will never take to him.” A murmur went through the room. “I hate to say it, but he’s just—how do I say this—visually unappealing.”

It was true. In the interviews for the position, all three candidates had been professional, friendly, and had shown strong potential in their research. But there was no denying that while Jamal and Tanya had been young and attractive, Darrell did not fall into that social category. He was in the same age range as Jamal and Tanya, but he was morbidly obese. His hair was clean but stringy. His face was pocked with boils and looked like it had been for some time.

“We are all most certainly not thinking that!” Another member of the committee piped up. “Darrell was nothing but professional in his appearance and I thought his research showed better potential than the other two candidates. Furthermore, I really enjoyed our conversations with him. The joke he told over dinner showed that he had a great sense of humor, too.” A couple of the people at the table nodded their heads. Darrell’s research had been popular with the committee. It was exciting in a way that would bring good press to the university.

There was a silence in the room for a few seconds. One of the committee members who had not spoken yet sat back in his chair. “The other two candidates also had a good sense of humor, I thought. I’m not sure that can be our deciding factor. And there’s one more thing to consider. While we all thought that Darrell’s teaching demonstration was on par with the other two candidates, the students, well, didn’t.” This was also true. Student evaluations collected after the teaching demonstration had been on average a point and a half lower than for the other two candidates, even though all three candidates had covered the same material in a dynamic manner. “We have to pay attention to these scores. For whatever reason—and I’m not saying it’s his appearance—students didn’t like Darrell as much. We have a hard decision ahead of us and we have to rule someone out. I think it has to be Darrell.”

Everyone on the committee knew that good looks were not a qualification for the position. But appealing to students was a qualification for the position, and it appeared that attractiveness was unconsciously having an effect on students’ evaluations of the teaching demonstration. Some people on the committee felt that this was enough of a factor to bring physical attractiveness into the picture. They also cited studies that physically attractive people tended to enjoy more success than their less fortunate counterparts. Others argued strongly against this position, noting that candidates had no control over their basic physical attractiveness. They argued that bringing physical attractiveness into the process at all amounted to discrimination.

(From the 2009 Regional Ethics Bowl, notes omitted.)

Case 4: Who’s Up for an Outing?

If someone participates in a Pride march with their same-sex partner, knowing that media will be present, it doesn’t seem problematic for others to assume that they identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. If the media is able to identify them and names them in a photo, this wouldn’t violate any obvious ethical guidelines. But what if someone developed a website that listed names, addresses, and employers of “Known Gays”?

On August 12, 2017 a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, featured a large number of seemingly angry people, most of whom showed their faces openly, certainly cognizant of the significant media attention present. The most publicized part of the rally involved a purported white nationalist driving his car into a group of counter-protestors and vehicles at the event, killing one woman and injuring many others. On Twitter, Yes, You’re Racist called upon people to identify rally participants, and the site then “outed” those who could be identified publicly and listed their information online. Yes, You’re Racist incited controversy as some participants thus outed claim they received death threats, while others lost jobs and friends, and many experienced general shunning by family and social groups.

“Outing” traditionally refers to making public an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Outing has a long and storied history, including the outing of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s confidant, Prince Eulenburg. LGBTQIA+ activists and critics alike have used outing on the one hand as a way to either call attention to gay rights issues and hatreds and prejudices, or on the other hand as a way to perpetuate negative reactions and stereotypes involving gay rights issues. Many argue that outing is morally problematic and involves at least a significant privacy invasion. But besides gender identity and sexual orientation, there are many personal issues that people often prefer to keep to themselves, like their ethnic ancestry or sexual history. Further, many prefer to keep their support of causes or groups that are not publicly popular to themselves, like membership in the Aryan Nations, communist organizations, or the American Civil Liberties Union.

(From the 2019 National Ethics Bowl.)

Case 5: Sexbots

In the video game, Detroit: Become Human, a player confronts the unique world of android sex workers. The human patrons of Eden Club (home of the “sexiest androids in town”) rent an android, or androids, and do pretty much whatever they want with it and to it. Business is booming for Eden Club. “The good thing about androids is they’re up for whatever you want, you won’t get any diseases, and they won’t tell anyone. So why not go wild?”

The memories of the rented androids in this particular brothel are reset every two hours, which allows patrons to have privacy, leaving virtually no trace of a patron's actions with the sex worker androids. Although not explicitly discussed in the game, one would assume that if a patron killed a sex worker android (which happens in the storyline) that the patron would be forced to pay for damages or a replacement. Short of killing a sex android or disfiguring it such that it cannot be repaired, whatever a patron does with or to a sex android is their own business. Both male and female sex androids are found at Eden Club. And although also not portrayed in the game world in question, one can imagine that this or other clubs would have child sex androids as well, and animal sex androids, and any other type of android for which someone is willing to pay.

For many critics and supporters of prostitution, this would seem to be an idyllic solution to many of the current-day woes of the sex worker trade. As an example, there is reasonable evidence that individuals with violent sexual tendencies, especially those who want to physically harm non-consenting others for sexual gratification, are unlikely to change. Sex worker androids would allow them to carry out their predilections without harm to any individual person or persons. In this particular game, it is an open question whether or not the androids have evolved into sentiency or consciousness or personhood, but the point remains that sex androids could be a solution to the moral issues associated with the oldest profession in the world—a profession which is not likely to disappear in the foreseeable future.

A sex doll brothel that opened in Paris, France, in 2018 has caused a good deal of controversy, with numerous calls for its closure from various entities, including politicians and feminist groups who claim the brothel encourages rape fantasies. Dortmund, Germany, has had a similar brothel since 2017. And products like Realbotix’s Harmony model, AI Tech’s Emma, Synthea Amatus’s Samantha, and TrueCompanion’s Roxxxy might make brothels like Eden Club a reality in the very near future.

(From the 2019 National Ethics Bowl.)

Case 6: MeToo Far

Sexual harassment law was initially envisioned to encompass a limited scope - it was not aimed to enforce civility code, but to redress actual measurable harms upon people based upon their sex and came at a time when women were often frozen out of entire industries or harassed so strongly/frequently that meaningful participation in the workforce was prevented. Massive strides have been made over the last 30-40 years, but work remains to be done and sexual harassment and even sexual abuse in some industries still festers.

However, with the recent #MeToo movement, some worry that what the U.S. Supreme Court wanted to avoid - the civility code, may now be emerging and impeding personal freedom—one author has termed this more recent #MeToo trend a moral panic, like the Salem Witch Trials (or a more McCarthyism may also be an apropos comparison). While much good can come from this moral panic insofar as we push the window of acceptable behavior to a more appropriate place, a minority worries that the sanitization of workplaces can sap a lot of the fun out of human interactions and harm the ability of some who are limited in their socialization opportunities of the chance of meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right.

Of course, as exhibited at the funeral services for Aretha Franklin, #MeToo still appears to be an essential movement given the distance women have to go. Singer, Arianna Grande performed at the services, but found herself the target of jokes about her name and familiar touching by the officiant at the funeral, but many commenting on the services found more to complain about with regard to Ms. Grande’s costume choice than the actions of her male colleague, visible to a national audience, and apparently outside the bounds of normal decorum.

Notably, the minister involved in the service apologized and claimed not to have realized where his hand was placed. His actions by no means approach the level of gross misconduct perpetrated by other famous figures like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, and others, but nevertheless, the public was torn between accusing Ms. Grande of failing to comply with the unwritten code for funerary fashion, whereas others focus on the actions of her male colleague in getting familiar with the young singer.

(From the 2018 Regional Ethics Bowl, notes omitted.)