PSEL: Acknowledging “Ugly” Priorities

Conflicting Priorities

A concept from Tim Ballet’s presentation on ethics was the idea of conflicting values and priorities and how they complicate thinking about what the “ethical approach” to a problem might be. For instance allowing an employee time off to care for a sick pet is compassionate, but could be perceived as being unfair if other employees don’t know if they can do the same thing. How do you balance flexibility with consistency?

This is actually a major issue at Penn State which is so large and varied. On the one hand, you want policy to be consistent across the university. But there are so many variables that simplistic policy can be too rigid (which then leads to complicated and difficult-to-digest policies). It is true that there is so much variation at Penn State that you need to find ways to accommodate different situations, but sometimes exceptions can be so arbitrary and ad hoc that people feel that the policy isn’t really that important and can be ignored. Chaos has now ensued.

Understanding “Ugly” Priorities

This is hopefully a segue to my next point that different “ugly” priorities play a larger role in our work lives than we want to admit. For instance, there is no official Penn State value about saving money, but a lot of unsavory decisions can be made in order to save money. Similarly, convenience may motivate people do take a quick and dirty path that can lead to bad consequences later.

I don’t think most people at Penn State would want to admit they are motivated by being “cheap” or “lazy”, but in some ways these priorities can as meaningful like any other priority if they are properly acknowledged. For instance, Tim Ballet notes that saving taxpayer money isn’t a bad priority at all. It’s just important that other priorities aren’t short changed in order to save money.

Similarly, I think it’s important to provide convenient services to the Penn State community. While it’s important to follow policy, if following policy requires too many inconveniences, people may decide to skip it, particularly if consequences for not following it are not immediately obvious. Acknowledging that people do have priorities like convenience, economics as well as other priorities like career advancement, professional standards or ties to families and peers is important to being able to gathering the cooperation needed to complete one of your important major projects.

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One Response to PSEL: Acknowledging “Ugly” Priorities

  1. Christy Helms says:

    That is why it is so important to have leaders that can take into consideration all the details to make balanced and logical decisions. When we drift to far one way or the other (too rigid or too lose) we do see chaos ensue. The University needs to provide the tools and resources (ie: policies) and trust in the good judgment and confidence of leadership to make good decisions.

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