A Code of Ethics

A code of ethics is a document of guidelines adopted by an organization that helps members conduct their actions and make decisions in accordance with the values, mission, and vision of the organization. It serves as a central guide and reference for members in day-to-day decision making.

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Why develop a code of ethics?

A code of ethics and values helps to:

  • Establish a definition of appropriate/inappropriate behaviors
  • Sets a precedent for ethical expectations
  • Provide a benchmark for use during self-evaluation
  • Demonstrate a dedication to ethical concerns and appropriate practices
  • Promote professionalism, responsibility, and accountability
  • Encourage high standards of practice
  • Indicate occupational/organizational maturity
  • Support occupational/organizational identity formation
  • Foster a positive public identity and more trusting relationship with external groups or organizations

Important considerations:

  • A code of ethics should reflect the organization’s policies, controls, and processes.
  • Codes should complement other relevant standards, policies, procedures, and rules, not replace them.

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Ethics Glossary

The Ethics Research Center provides a helpful ethics glossary of terms that are typically used in codes of conduct and other ethical publications.

A few definitions that are particularly salient to student government ethics code creation are listed below.

Aspirational
A strong desire to achieve something high or great. An aspirational code would be intended to reach a higher ethics standard that supercedes being in compliance.

Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics
A central guide and reference for users in support of day-to-day decision making. It is meant to clarify an organization’s mission, values and principles, linking them with standards of professional conduct. As a reference, it can be used to locate relevant documents, services and other resources related to ethics within the organization.

Code of Conduct
Can refer to a listing of required behaviors, the violation of which would result in disciplinary action. In practice, used interchangeably with Code of Ethics.

Code of Ethics
Often conveys organizational values, a commitment to standards, and communicates a set of ideals. In practice, used interchangeably with Code of Conduct.

Code Provisions
The specific standards of behavior and performance expectations that your organization chooses to highlight and address in your code.

Dynamic responsibility
The world of embracing problems and challenges; knowing when to renegotiate promises made; and fostering change in the society around us. (From “The Joy in Taking Responsibility: Remarks to the Corps of Cadets, Valley Forge Military Academy & College”, April 2001, Kenneth W. Johnson)

Values
The core beliefs we hold regarding what is right and fair in terms of our actions and our interactions with others. Another way to characterize values is that they are what an individual believes to be of worth and importance to their life (valuable).  (From “What is the Difference Between Ethics, Morals and Values?”, Frank Navran)

Values-centered Code of Ethics Offers
A set of ethical ideals, such as integrity, trust-worthiness and responsibility, which companies want employees to adopt in their work practices.

Ethics Resource Center, “Ethics Glossary,” May 29, 2009, http://www.ethics.org/resource/ethics-glossary.

Helpful Websites

Ethics Web, Creating a Code of Ethics for Your Organization, Chris MacDonald, Ph.D.

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Creating a Code of Ethics and Values, Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman

Ethics Resource Center, Why Have a Code of Conduct

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