Analyze an Ethical/Legal Situation

Analyze an Ethical/Legal Situation

JOUR3421 R52: Writing for Public Relations

Situation Overview

Melody S. Hanzout—daughter of U.S. Sen. Herchel H. Hanzout—has been awarded a full scholarship (tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board) to finish her fifth year of study at the university, without having applied for one.
Dr. T.A. Lott—State University President—denies the scholarship was granted to win the favor of Sen. Hanzout. He also publicly denies knowing who granted the scholarship.
Edgar M. Burns—director of student financial aid—doesn’t remember who authorized the scholarship.
Professor Damon R. Philley—chair of the scholarship application review committee—vows an investigation into the matter. Many of the committee members deny any knowledge of the scholarship award.
Senator Hanzout expects to be named chair of the U.S. Senate’s education subcommittee next year.

Questions

What legal requirements must be observed?

Is it better to try to cover up an unseemly situation than to face it squarely? What is the rationale for either decision?

What are the university’s obligations to Ms. Hanzout and to its relevant publics, such as students, faculty and staff?

What ethical questions must be resolved?

Do ethical and legal issues conflict in this instance? If so, how can they be resolved?

Legal Requirements

According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (US Department of Education, 2009), no personally identifiable information about a student can be released to any party that is not a student or a student’s parent without prior written consent. There are a few exceptions, as outlined in section 99.31:
§ 99.31 Under what conditions is prior consent not required to disclose information?
(4)(i) The disclosure is in connection with financial aid for which the student has applied or which the student has received, if the information is necessary for such purposes as to:
(A) Determine eligibility for the aid;
(B) Determine the amount of the aid;
(C) Determine the conditions for the aid; or
(D) Enforce the terms and conditions of the aid.
(ii) As used in paragraph (a)(4)(i) of this section,”financial aid” means a payment of funds provided to an individual (or a payment in kind of tangible or intangible property to the individual) that is conditioned on the individual’s attendance at an educational agency or institution.
This exception clause does not however, grant our organization (ProCom) or State University or its agents the ability to publicly utilize any of Ms. Hanzout’s information. Her information can however (as well as past scholarship recipients’ information) be utilized in an internal investigation.

Assessing the Situation

Given the negative statement from the university faculty senate’s executive committee (with an inference that Dr. Lott should resign) and the open call for Dr. Lott’s and Mr. Burn’s resignations released by the student government, it would be best to address the situation head-on. Since parties have already publicly released statements, any option to make the situation disappear quietly is null. State University may even emerge with a stronger image by following proper protocols. An internal investigation should be conducted to determine who authorized the scholarship, if Ms. Hanzout was eligible for the scholarship, and if the institution’s regulations for granting scholarships were followed. If the institution’s regulations were not followed, the appropriate parties should be held accountable and receive disciplinary action according to the institution’s guidelines. This situation will call into question the integrity of the people and processes involved. Maintaining a transparent investigation will help retain some of that integrity.

University Obligations

State University has an obligation to Ms. Hanzout to maintain her record confidentiality. It has an obligation to ensure due diligence was followed in granting Ms. Hanzout her scholarship. It has an obligation to the students, that they are all treated fairly and equally under institution guidelines. It has an obligation to the faculty and staff, that they are all subject to the same rules and regulations. Those parties choosing to disregard protocol will be subjected to disciplinary action, no matter how high up in the hierarchy one’s position is.

Ethics Questions

Have other students been granted scholarships outside of the regular scholarship process? If so, what do their records look like?
Who authorized the scholarship for Ms. Hanzout and was it within their authority?
Does the public have a right to know why Ms. Hanzout was granted the scholarship? Was she granted the scholarship because of her father’s political position?
Should Ms. Hanzout’s scholarship be revoked?
Should Dr. Lott resign?
Should Mr. Burns resign?

Ethical & Legal Conflicts

A conflict exists between Ms. Hanzout’s right to privacy versus the ability to publicly use her record to justify the scholarship. This can be resolved by getting written consent from Ms. Hanzout to use her record. A problem might also arise if it turns out the scholarship was, in fact, granted to Ms. Hanzout to gain the favor of her father, Senator Hanzout. In this instance, her scholarship may be revoked and the person who authorized the scholarship will face disciplinary action.

References

United States Department of Education. (n.d.). 2009 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations. Retrieved February 8, 2016 from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferparegs.pdf