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Lessons in Ethics from University of Arkansas

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Lessons in Ethics from University of Arkansas

Is winning really everything? What concerns me most about the current news from The University of Arkansas football program is the mentality I’m seeing from the fans, that just because a coach can win, he is held to a different standard. We have seen this mentality in the business world over the years and each time it has led to failure. Rather than focusing on what is assumed to be an inappropriate relationship, or the questions surrounding Petrino’s moral compass, we should consider the ethical dilemma in which the University now finds itself. Ethically speaking, there are two key issues:

1.As a state employee, Petrino should be held to the same standards as any other employee in the system.

2.The hiring of Jessica Dorrell is looking more like a conflict of interest.

In December 2010, the university negotiated a new seven-year contract with Petrino, worth $3.56 million a year, which makes him the highest paid state employee. As a state employee, he is subject to the ethics and personal conduct clauses in the university’s Staff Handbook and any stipulations found in his contract. Let’s face it, he lied about his motorcycle crash to the athletics director (his boss) and tried to cover up the accident. This alone could (and some said should) be grounds for dismissal, and the university should hold him accountable for his actions.

Now to the hiring of Jessica Dorrell – was Petrino in an on-going relationship with her when she was hired? If so, did that influence his decision to bring her on as the “student athlete development coordinator”? These are valid questions that could lead allegations of preferential treatment as well as possible lawsuits from those who were passed over for the job and. Again, wouldn’t this be grounds for dismissal for any other state employee?

So who is harmed here? Petrino? Some say he got what he deserved. Dorrell? Maybe. Her reputation is damaged, and she may very well face a lengthy period of scrutiny and the loss of her job because of her complicit role in these events. She could even be charged with a crime if it is determined that she may have had acted as an accomplice to cover up the vehicular charges. Is the university harmed? Certainly, but probably not very deeply or for very long. Why? Because we have become almost numb to our leaders failing us… Sean Payton, Jerry Sandusky, Gregg Williams, etc.

The image of an institute of higher learning is essential to maintaining the enrollment of students. While football and athletics bring notoriety and money to an institution, the university’s primary function is to prepare future leaders and role models.

So back to the original question: is winning really everything?

In this case, no. The University of Arkansas came to the right ethical decision as an institiution to fire Petrino, Tuesday April 10th, with “just cause”. Here are the words from Jeff Long, University of Arkansas’ athletics director, regarding the firing:

“He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program,” Long said, “In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.” Long went on to say, “Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than what we expect of our students. No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program of the University of Arkansas.”

Bravo to the Razorbacks’ leadership for making the right decision to choose integrity and ethics over winning more football games.

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