Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Mission and People

June 24th, 2012

I awoke this morning to front-page news about two criminal convictions—both concerning sexual abuse of children by trusted authorities, both in Pennsylvania, my home state, where I now live again. One involved a church leader in Philadelphia, the other a highly regarded assistant football coach at Penn State, where I am on faculty. The stories are jarring and disturbing and have made headlines around the world. The stories also carry lessons and reminders.

When I served in the U.S. Army, I learned (as all officers were taught) that nothing transcends the mission and the people. Society sets up many authorities, social structures, codes, and hierarchies: the military, law enforcement. civil service, the courts, religion, universities, medicine, and many others. People higher up in such hierarchies often enjoy privilege, elevated status, wealth, and recognition. Society imbues these people with trust and many perquisites and, in return, expects a code of conduct—such as dedication to one’s mission and people. Still, it is common for people and organizations to lose sight of these sacred trusts and focus instead on self gratification and taking care of one’s own: for example, police sometimes protect other officers before the public; doctors often protect our colleagues and trainees above our responsibility to their future patients.

It is reassuring that, after generations of neglect, society is now investigating and punishing the abuse of children. But physicians, educators, the clergy, and many others who benefit from elevated status in our community carry a range of obligations and expectations. We need to renew our vows every day in our own worlds—reminding ourselves of those who are vulnerable and depend on us. It comes back to our mission and our people.

-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry

Winning: the only thing?

December 18th, 2011

The holiday season is a good time for reflection. For me reflections this year are colored by the ongoing fallout from the child sex abuse allegations at my university, which is reverberating at institutions throughout our country.

I have worked in all the major sectors of our economy: for-profit, not-for-profit, and government. For most of my career, I’ve been in universities. Not-for-profit institutions are exempted from paying taxes because federal and state governments deem we are doing public good. Still, I have seen so many leaders and organizations in this arena act as if Vince Lombardi or Niccolo Machiavelli were their patron saints. It comes down to “winning,” outperforming the “other guy,” such as a “competing” institution, which is often charged with performing the same public good—like charity, health care, or education.

Of course, most decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are pragmatic and mundane. Few rise to ethical or moral issues. But I have seen many executives, leaders, and governing bodies, even when faced with moral dilemmas, calculate solely based on pragmatic projections—relying exclusively on legal, financial, and public-relations advice—forgetting the mission, moral, or ethical dimensions of important matters.

Sometimes those of us with administrative or governing authority must stand up, remember why we’re here, return to core values, and do the right thing. Is that a risk? Perhaps. But there are risks worth taking.

-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry