KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 15, 2003 -- Often the focus of accusing headlines, victims of stereotypes, and the brunt of numerous jokes Whats big and orange and sleeps two? A Department of Transportation truck public administrators in Rhode Island need all the help they can get.
And theyre getting some needed assistance and support from the John Hazen White Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Rhode Island.
"You are not suspects," says a reassuring Al Killilea, professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, to 25 administrators participating in a two-day workshop at URIs Bay Campus to discuss ethical issues that arise in public service.
This latest batch of state employees represent such diverse state agencies as the Departments of Corrections, Business Regulation, Elderly Affairs, Labor, and Rhode Island National Guard.
The workshops began years ago as an outgrowth of the masters of public administration program jointly taught by URI and Rhode Island College faculty members. "We realized that we had the theory," says Killilea, "but we lacked the practical experiences what administrators experience on a daily basis."
The workshops became formalized in 1994 with a $535,000 gift from the late businessman and ethics crusader John Hazen White Sr., which permanently established a center for ethics and public service on URIs Kingston campus.
The workshops are not intended to teach public servants how to discipline unethical behavior, but to prevent it from occurring in the first place, according to Killilea.
"We try to sensitize officials to the ethical component of decisions that arise in the workplace," says Killilea who co-directs the ethics center. "We share our knowledge with them by presenting actual case studies and encourage them to share their own experiences and ask questions."
So far, more than 200 state administrators have attended the workshops says Killilea, noting that the goal is to develop a critical mass of people in public office who become comfortable dealing with ethical issues.
"The ethical dilemmas faced by public administrators are complex and arise from situations where no matter what course of action one takes, some ethical principle will be violated, " URI Philosophy Professor and Center Fellow Lynn Pasquerella tells the group. "For this reason, doing what is ethically correct often requires extraordinary courage and leadership from public administrators."
On this day, Michael Schuster, managing partner of CHRS Competitive Human Resources Strategies, LLC and a member of the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education, spoke to the group about "Ethics and Performance: Organizational, Group and Individual."
A consultant to a number of Fortune 500 businesses, Schuster spoke about how the culture of a business supports different kinds of behavior. In response to an administrator who mentioned that an employee leaves 15 minutes early every day, Schuster commented: "Its important to raise the bar of expectation for employees. Good people cheer when someone who has gotten away with murder is disciplined. Its an employees ethical obligation to arrive on time and stay until the end. And blaming a union for the problem is a cop out. Management gets the union it deserves."
Feedback for the workshop was positive. As one participant summed up the experience on the evaluation form: "It was a good use of my time from start to finish."