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Let's Talk About Integrity

graphic with words integrity commitment truth

July 2015

To gain a better understanding of how St. Ambrose University both practices and promotes the foundational core value of integrity, Scene invited five members of the campus community to discuss the topic.

Panelists were Sandra Cassady, PT, PhD, dean of the College of Health and Human Services; Micah Kiel, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Theology Department; Paul Koch, PhD, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs and a professor of psychology; Tim Phillips, PhD, associate vice president and dean of students; and Ray Shovlain '79, '82 MBA, athletic director, head men's basketball coach and an instructor in the College of Business.

What follows is an edited transcript. A longer version can be found here.

Integrity is a large concept, encompassing and supporting many aspects of the St. Ambrose mission. What does integrity mean to you and how do you promote this core value in your work?

Ray Shovlain: "For me, integrity is an action word. I like the saying, ‘Do not tell me how good you are; show me.' Within the Athletic Department, we continue to challenge all student-athletes, coaches and staff to reach out to others in need through the community service projects and experiences we participate in throughout the year. These incorporate integrity into action."
Tim Phillips: "The deepest level of integrity comes when an individual is faced with acting at a moment when no one else will likely ever know the outcome. In my mind, acting consistently with who you say you are in an ethical, respectful and life-enhancing way at a time when only you know what you are doing is integrity in its purest form. I am grateful that we have many who do just that in our midst at St. Ambrose."
Sandra Cassady: "I believe integrity begins with understanding who we are as an institution of higher education, how we relate to one another and the broader community and how we prepare students for their future. Whether students are seeking traditional liberal arts majors or a degree in a professional program, we expect them to act with integrity and conduct themselves in a manner that recognizes the importance of honesty, moral actions and respect for one another.
"We need to hold each other accountable, too, and serve as role models for students. Ray's comment about integrity as an action word really resonates with me. 'Deeds, not words' applies here."

Promoting integrity and ethical behavior should be a core mission of any institution of higher learning. Can you identify ways and examples of how we do this better than other institutions?

Micah Kiel: "I would tie our understanding of ethics directly to our understanding and promotion of social justice. A true understanding of social justice ought to impact a myriad of decisions we make every day: what car to drive, where to live, which job to take, what food to eat, which portfolio to invest in.
"SAU is better than many institutions in getting students to see this social component of the gospel and giving them opportunities to practice those very tenets."
Paul Koch: "One would like to think that integrity and ethical behavior would be core mission values of any higher education institution, but I sense a certain degree of fear in other institutions I have visited, especially those that are not faith-based, to even suggest that one can bring a conversation about values into the classroom or into meetings.
"Some have suggested that education should be value free, but the reality is that I bring my values into the classroom or into a meeting each and every time. As a Catholic institution, it is my hope that what we bring to our students is value-laden rather than value-free."
Sandra Cassady: "What may differentiate us is the manner in which we handle lapses in integrity. On occasion, I have witnessed how our student affairs professionals and faculty approach the disciplinary process in a developmental manner. Our collective actions-how we work through these difficult situations-likely have a profound effect on students and the others they go on to serve."

How have the advance of technology and the ready availability of information increased the challenge of promoting and ensuring ethical behavior in the pursuit of learning?

Paul Koch: "It has become a problem. While students have engaged in plagiarism from time immemorial, the nature of what I see has become more aggravated over time. It is no longer just pulling a sentence or two out of a reference and failing to cite the source. I see situations where entire paragraphs are lifted from electronic sources and presented as their own, and occasionally entire papers.
"The rapid communication that can occur and escalate quickly on social mediums that offer anonymity also has caused us challenges. We could simply prevent access to such media through our servers, but, as a learning organization, we have taken the route of using such events as a learning environment, where we remind people of our mission and core values and that certain behaviors are intolerable. The behaviors in question have typically moderated or ended using this technique."
Sandra Cassady: "To ensure integrity and ethical behavior, we need to continue to provide education for all-traditional undergraduates, adult students and graduate students-about how to be responsible users of information. From my experiences visiting other colleges and universities and interactions with graduate students who come to us from other institutions, I find that the work our library faculty does and lessons provided through our information literacy class are tremendous resources for undergraduate students. And surprisingly, this is somewhat unique."
Micah Kiel: "With technology, I worry about community. When I started teaching at SAU, few students had smart phones. Before class they would interact, talk, discuss. Now, every single student is buried in a phone up until the start of class. Part of ethical behavior is communal-it is easier to make good choices if others around you are doing the same. I worry that technology prevents personal interaction and that can lead to isolation, a cutting of the ethical tether between an individual and a community."

Do you believe the world our students live in is more ethical, less ethical or equally ethical to the one students knew as recently as 20 years ago? Have world events, including behavior by entertainers and particularly athletes, affected how students value integrity?

Micah Kiel: I actually do not think the world is any more or less ethical than it used to be. Close reading of the Iliad, the Bible, Dante or Flannery O'Connor can tell us that humanity has long been facing ethical challenges, and while the specific guise of those challenges may have changed slightly, the basic components of ethics have not.
"This does not mean we ought to ignore the particular iteration of our current ethical problems, but a place like St. Ambrose University ought to contextualize them historically, philosophically and theologically so we can bring the wisdom of the past-learning both from successes and mistakes-in order to be that which God calls us to be in the present and future."
Ray Shovlain: "Compliments to the Internet and social media, as they provide more exposure of negative or unethical situations and issues. Unethical behavior of years ago truly went underexposed.
"I do feel that students have been affected both in a positive and negative way given world events, as well as exposed bad behavior by athletes and entertainers. One fear I have is that given all the exposure to negative and unethical behavior, there is a tendency to desensitize not just young people, but everyone."

What does success in advancing this mission core value look like specific to St. Ambrose University?

Tim Phillips: "I think the outcome of our effective advancement of integrity is demonstrated by the job placement rates, relative career success and the general impressions the community has about St. Ambrose.
"Time and again, we hear from employers that St. Ambrose graduates provide the foundation to their workforce and come well-prepared to hit the ground running. That makes the university a dependable entity, one that our city and places beyond can turn to with specific educational and service needs."
Paul Koch: "Agree, Tim. I think success is also demonstrated by the very action of paying attention to our core values and guiding principles in ways such as this discussion. We make the attempt to practice what we preach."

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