I’m in the process of preparing an upcoming lesson on ethics and PR, and facing the usual dilemma. I think it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of ethics in any kind of organizational decision-making context, and the potential impact of strategic communication campaigns makes it especially key for public relations students (and practitioners, of course).
However, I find it difficult to adequately cover the topic of ethics in a single class session. While I’m sure they’ve already had exposure to ethical concepts in previous coursework, some discussion will be necessary to determine just what they know and remember. In the past, I’ve been surprised and saddened to find that many students have solid personal ethics, but are convinced that they will have to abide by a completely different set of rules when they join a company. “The corporate world is ruthless, and you have to do everything you can to get ahead,” “There’s no room for ethics in the workplace,” and “If your boss tells you to do something, you can’t refuse even if it’s unethical” are all sentiments that students have expressed in discussions and written assignments. Obviously we need to spend more time making sure students understand the importance of upholding professional standards of conduct despite pressures in the workplace. That’s not going to happen in a single week of class.
I would love to teach an elective on ethics, but barring that possibility, I’m trying to work in as much discussion of ethical decision making as I can throughout the semester. Aside from the PRSA code of ethics, I’ve found that movies and novels are often good conversation starters: The Insider, Thank You For Smoking, and Slick (A Novel) have all worked well for me. I’m interested in knowing how other instructors incorporate ethics into their public relations or other communication classes.