Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // To The Point // 2TP2
From Conflict of Interest to Communities of Interest
I fear that some may indeed miss a broader and equally important point for the system-the point that the ECOP chair chose to focus attention on an ethical question. How well have CES leaders done in leading and modeling integrity when more than half of the farmers...believe that, "...producer's ethical standards have slipped over the past 10 years,"...
Any leader who allows the organization to skirt the edge of the law not only undermines its conscience and sense of good citizenship, but may be creating circumstances that will give birth to new and more restrictive regulations in the future.1
I doubt that many will miss the point of Fowler's excellent article on conflict of interest. However, I fear that some may indeed miss a broader and equally important point for the system- the point that the ECOP chair chose to focus attention on an ethical question. CES must take the "high road" not just in matters of law, but in other areas essential to building our organizational integrity.
We're an organization that historically gained and maintained public trust. The majority of CES leaders and staff have long acted out of a framework of personal integrity emphasizing fairness, loyalty, dependability, tolerance, caring, respect, and commitment to the very best traditions of the past. Yet today, some of these personal values of integrity, such as loyalty, may prevent us from establishing critical relationships with new audiences. CES must keep working toward a climate where people can feel proud and uncompromised by their affiliations, including moving on to address higher priority needs.
Nanus2 argues that previous personal integrity standards are inadequate for development and maintenance of organizational integrity in the future. His path to the organizational high road of the future requires four actions. These are essential not just for CES, but the land-grant university community as a whole. We can't tolerate a compromised research agenda. Nor can research tolerate a weak Extension unable or unwilling to speak forcefully back to research of society's issues and needs. Nanus says organizations seeking integrity must:
- Prevent or correct adverse impacts of organizational actions on society.
- Commit to the dignity of every individual-especially employees.
- Create fair and balanced communities of interest around important issues.
- See that the organization observes not only the letter, but the intent, of all laws that apply.
In a democracy, passage of a law is a clear signal that some segments of society have unmet needs. An anticipatory, issues- driven, more broadly based CES should be better positioned to assure that the land-grant universities understand the purpose and the spirit driving societal demands for change.
As Jim Moseley, the assistant secretary of agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, stated in a January address to new Extension directors and administrators, "Our communities need and want leadership that will help them sift through the maze of complex issues they confront. To me it's not a trite statement to say it's within your grasp to truly improve the quality of life for all Americans."3
How well have CES leaders done in leading and modeling integrity when more than half of the farmers responding to a recent survey conducted by Farm Futures magazine believe that, "...producer's ethical standards have slipped over the past 10 years," and that most farmers will cheat if they can get away with it?
I applaud Fowler's focus on the issue of conflict of interest. I think his topic challenges us all to move away from conflict of interest to communities of interest. We can do what's good for the nation (issues-based, objective, unbiased research and extension), thus doing what's good for the Cooperative Extension System of the future.
1. Burt Nanus, The Leader's Edge (Chicago: Contempory Books), 1989.
3. J. Moseley, speech given January 16, 1991 at the ES-USDA orientation conference for new directors and administrators, Washington, D.C.