A case in which an engineer agrees to take a job for the local newspaper, which misrepresents the engineer's professional opinion.
Garcia, a renowned structural engineer, is hired for a nominal sum by a large city newspaper to visit the site of a State bridge-construction project. This project has been plagued by construction delays, cost increases, and litigation, primarily as a result of several well publicized on-site accidents.
Garcia visits the bridge and performs a one-day visual inspection. In very general terms, her report identifies potential problems and proposes additional testing and other solutions. In a series of feature articles based on Garcia's report, the newspaper alleges that the bridge has major safety problems that will jeopardize its completion date. Allegations of misconduct and incompetence are made against the project engineers, the contractors, and the State highway department. The State holds an investigation, in which Garcia states that her report only identified potential problems with the safety of the bridge and was not intended to be conclusive.
Do you think it was ethical for Garcia to perform an investigation for the newspaper in the manner stated? In light of this experience, what safeguards might an engineer seek as a condition of accepting an assignment like Garcia's?
--adapted from NSPE Case No. 88-7
NSPE Code of Ethics An earlier version may have been used in this case.
Return to Professional Ethics in Engineering Practice: Discussion Cases Based on NSPE BER Cases
This ethical decision-making framework developed by Dr. Michael Davis of the Illinois Institute of Technology is useful in guiding discussions around case studies and other ethics courses and workshop activities.
This bibliography includes examples of different ways instructors have used case studies to introduce ethical topics to their students and resources for finding cases and incorporating them into the classroom.
In this essay, Dr. Whitbeck outlines an 'agent-centered' approach to learning ethics. The central aim is to prepare students to act wisely and responsibly when faced with moral problems. She provides a number of examples and cases with descriptions of questions and directions for promoting student participation and stimulating thought and discussion.