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Ethical Dilemmas of
College Students

Classes are not the only challenge facing a college students. College classes are, in many ways, similar to high school classes, even if they move faster and involve a bigger vocabulary.

Relations with other students can also be provoking, especially for students living with roommates whom they scarcely know, whom they may not like very well, and whose background may be quite different from their own.

In an effort to provide some cases for discussion among entering freshmen when I was the head of Warren College at UCSD, I devised, in 2003, a number of sketches of imaginary ethical challenges. Most are based on real cases that arose during my career as an administrator, and I discussed them with Jeff Philpott, the Warren Dean of Student Affairs at the time, whose opinions much improved them (although he is in no way responsible for remaining or newly introduced shortcomings).

The behavior of these characters would not make them proud, but the stories are, alas, plausible and perhaps useful to think with. I envisioned them being potentially useful in some form or other during freshman orientation or a similar occasion.

We did not have occasion to use them before Jeff and I both moved on, so they are presented here, a couple decades later but yet untried, in the hope that they may still prove thought-provoking discussion material for a new college student, professor, or even dean.

Each story involves ethically challenging behavior and asks some “hard questions” about it, but does not provide answers. And each has a coda at the end which may change the reader's evaluation of the ethical situation.

  1. The Case of the Reality Check
  2. The Case of the Curious RA
  3. The Case of the Double Bed
  4. The Case of the Additional Digit
  5. The Case of the Race to the Bottom

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