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Why Ethics Education Isn't Enough

February 5, 2013
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Is a one-credit course on ethics in the surveying and mapping profession sufficient to provide a solid foundation for real-life practice? How can surveying and mapping professionals raise ethical standards to ensure the public trust? What are you doing to promote ethical behavior?

These were just a few of the questions John Clyatt, president of Pickett & Associates Inc. in Bartow, Fla., asked the audience to consider at the MAPPS Winter Conference.

A third-generation surveyor, Clyatt gave what he called a “sermon from the pulpit” on the history and current practices of ethics in professional applications on Jan. 30 at Trump International Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.

Although Clyatt humbly noted that he was in no better position to speak on ethics than anyone else in the room, he takes ethics very seriously within his own firm. The firm’s mission embraces “a corporate culture and long-term vision for the company that is built on honesty and integrity,” two pillars of ethics. In addition, situational examples of ethics are discussed during weekly safety meetings with his team.

Clyatt said professionals are bound, “in light of their specialized skills,” to follow codes of ethics established by state laws and the associations to which they belong. He said professionals have a duty to raise their vocation to a higher level, which is a key to maintaining the public’s trust. A strong moral compass allows the public to continue to seek out specialized services. A professional’s ethics should be “a way of life rather than passive observance,” he said.

In order to make it a way of life, Clyatt said, professional ethics needs to be taught at a younger age and constantly reinforced. A member of the University of Florida’s Geomatics Advisory Committee since 1998, he said that while the program at Florida has done a good job of incorporating ethical instruction, he also has heard the debates on whether it is necessary to teach ethics at all.

He provided an example that showed a university with a one-credit elective course on ethics in the geospatial profession. It allows the school to “check the box” for ethics on its petition for accreditation, Clyatt said. Instead of a one-credit course, ethics needs to be included into the curriculum of many other classes, he said. This would allow professors to instill everyday ethical situations into the minds of budding practitioners and reinforce the message over and over.

“University programs are too focused on teaching the technical and not real-world situations that arise. … Ethics needs to be elevated to the point where our ethical responsibility is on par with our technical responsibility,” Clyatt said.

Great strides can be made regarding future educational requirements. Clyatt suggested that ethics education should be required in continuing education courses and in license renewal – in the same manner that technical standards must be mastered.

He also suggested that professional societies should be more stringent in enforcing ethical standards by censuring members for breaches of bylaws. A member and past president of the Florida Surveying and Mapping Society as well as a member of ACSM, ASPRS, NSPS and MAPPS, Clyatt said it is incumbent on individuals to turn in their colleagues for violations of ethical standards.

Clyatt said Alabama and Ohio have sent a strong message to practitioners by codifying ethical standards into state law. The Alabama law states that professionals cannot passively sit by and allow a fellow practitioner to breach professional ethics. Instead, they are obligated to say something; otherwise, they, too, are guilty of a violation.

“We need to closely follow, we need to closely follow up on, we need to monitor, and we need to continue our pursuit of elevating the profession,” Clyatt said.

Finally, he advised incorporating discussions on real-world ethical situations into regular meetings and the everyday practice of each firm. Companies should “mentor young professionals and set stellar examples of ethical business practices,” he said.

What do you think? Are today’s universities, associations, and surveying and mapping firms doing enough to promote ethics? What changes are needed? Share your comments below.
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