Laura McKenna has a piece up today about the responsibility of organizations to police their members outside of the time they are directly involved with said organization. She mentions two incidents, both well-covered in the media. The first is the Ray Rice spousal abuse situation. From McKenna:
The NFL president is pleading ignorance, which doesn’t seem entirely honest. Clearly, this Rice dude was worth a lot of money, and they didn’t want to damage that property. Also, I think that they didn’t consider the behavior of their players off the field to be any of their business.
The second item is the case of an autistic boy who was the victim of a horrible prank in Ohio involving the ALS ice bucket challenge. Again, from McKenna:
School officials were interviewed for the story. They said that this was indeed a horrible act, but they couldn’t expel the perpetrators, because the act happened outside of school grounds. Schools have taken a very strict line between things that happen during school hours and on school grounds versus everything else. Their responsibilities end when the kids take a step outside the school building. Even school buses are grey areas.
Having considered both events together, it now seems apparent that I have a personal dilemma in that my reactions seem to contradiction each other. Allow me to explain… On the issue of Ray Rice, yeah, he’s a guy who clearly committed a crime and if the courts want to pursue his punishment I am 100% behind that. But here is where I have a problem: He lost his job over the incident. On the surface it is easy to say that the NFL should have terminated him and this is justice. Upon further reflection though, I’m not so sure I would want the same amount of accountability for myself.
I don’t drink and drive but let’s say that I have a couple drinks too many at a bar, try to drive home and find myself in jail. Like Rice, whatever punishment the law decides for me is fair and I would accept it as the price for my crime. Let’s say though that somehow my employer finds out about what happened and they fire me because it affects the company’s image or something like that. Now this moment of poor judgement has resulted in me being unemployed. That punishes my family for my poor choices. It starts to feel very much like double jeopardy. On the other side, however, what if it was not my employer who cut their ties with me but a civic organization that I was affiliated with? Suddenly the punishment doesn’t seem quite so cruel.
One can argue that Rice is a public figure and a sort of entertainer. On those grounds, yes, image does matter. We’ve seen many public figures fired for far less over the years. The precedent seems to be that when the public knows about a crime or indiscretion by a member, organizations must cut ties or risk being seen as endorsing this behavior. What about a school though?
I’ve written here at Ordinary Times about my experience with private schools and my continued involvement as a board member with my alma mater should make it obvious that I have a lot of pride in that school and what it stands for. During my day no dount dozens of times times since, the school has occasionally had to discipline a student for an event that happened outside of school. Off-campus fights, drinking or even speeding tickets. Yes, speeding tickets. When I was a student, if you were caught speeding on the way to school the local police would turn your name into the school and you would receive a detention.
The message we were told over and over during my time there was that we represented the school 24 x 7. Students at the school carry plenty of backpacks, ball caps and apparel with the school name on it and the formal dress code means they are recognizable wherever they go. Misbehavior in public does indeed affect the school’s image in the public as I can attest to based on letters from concerned individuals that find their way to the principal’s office from time to time.
Every so often a student is expelled for an incident too serious to pardon. Usually it involves drinking or drugs and the school’s zero-tolerance policy is cited as the young man is shown the door. For a long time I thought this was fair, owing to the school’s existence as a private institution. In light of the comparison McKenna makes, I cannot wonder if this may be an overreach. Am I comfortable with saying that someone should not loose their job over an outside crime but they should lose their access to a top-tier education? Even when a private school isn’t involved, expulsions almost never work out well for the student. But man, I hate bullies and if ever some kids deserved to be expelled, it’s those assholes in Ohio.
So the question for today is this: Where do we draw the line between personal accountability, accountability to the law and accountability to the organizations we are affiliated with? Does the individual ever hold any power in this dynamic?
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. You can also find him on Facebook. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.