Ethics: Leaking Confidential Meeting Details

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What would you do Wednesday!

The characters: You are one of twenty board members of a local Christian school. You have a friend who writes an online column for a local newspaper.

The situation: Your friend has recently written critically in his online column about some of the recent decisions of the Christian school. You have mostly agreed with your friend about his concerns and have worked within your capacity as a board member to correct these recent decisions.

A recent board meeting discussed some of the details about one of the school’s recent decisions. You shared those confidential details with your friend. You did not explicitly state that those details were to remain private so your friend decided to publish an article containing those details in the online newspaper column. Your friend cited an unnamed board member as his source.

The Christian school is well-known and relatively powerful in the community so this confidential information has caused quite a stir in the community. The Chairman of the board has put pressure on the newspaper to get your friend to reveal his source. The Chairman has also asked for the board member that leaked the information to admit to it.

The two potential outcomes: If your friend does not reveal his source the newspaper will take disciplinary action against him. If your identity is revealed, the board will take disciplinary action against you.

What do you do?

  • Try to subtly convince the board to drop the issue.
  • Let your friend take a fall for you to fight for your cause.
  • Admit you are the leak and save your friend from any recourse.
  • Start blogging anonymously about the school and all of their internal problems.
  • Or…
Let's connect!

tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wade Phillips April 11, 2012 at 11:20 am

There is only one problem with this scenario – no newspaper worth it’s salt would take disciplinary action against a reporter for not revealing a confidential source.

However, in the scenario you’ve created, I would admit that I leaked it.

2 Cathy M. April 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

Your board member needs to come clean and accept whatever consequences may come. Blabbing confidential information to a news reporter hardly seems like an innocent mistake, but rather an act of treachery. If I were consistently unhappy with the decisions reached by a board or committee on which I served, I’d step down. To remain as a kind of “fifth columnist” seems kinda despicable to me.

3 Joshua Collins April 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm

The right thing to do is admit you are the leak. That’s basic Christian Ethics 101.
One can view this admission two ways:
1) It is repentance for lying. If there was an agreement of confidentiality in the board meeting and you signed it and then simply broke that agreement, “you, sir, are a liar” and need to confess, repent, and accept the consequences of your actions.
2) If the information being withheld is of a moral nature where you felt upholding the confidentiality agreement would be sinful and harmful to others (say the board was harboring a known pedophile in the school), then you would be speaking out in an act of civil disobedience (We ought to obey God rather than man.) However, the ethics of civil disobedience are such that one must break the rule AND be willing to accept the consequences for doing the right thing instead. If you feel that disclosing the information is a moral necessity, then you should do so (for conscience sake and perhaps protecting others). But when you do so, you must not hide or shield yourself from consequences (like being kicked off the board). The apostles who said “We must obey God rather than man” were willing to be arrested and even killed for their civil disobedience. So blow the whistle but put your name on it.

I think the situation must be one of the two items listed above.

4 Joshua Collins April 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I know my answer was good, but I didn’t know it would end all discussion on the topic. Any thoughts from you, Mark?

5 Mark April 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Hi Josh,

Thank you and everyone for the comments.

My thoughts are that it was wrong in the first place for the board member to share the information with his friend. It was then wrong for his friend to publish the information.

The right action to take would be for the board member to confess to being the leak and accept the disciplinary actions that followed. The paper would probably not reprimand the reporter in anyway though as a Christian the reporter may consider writing some sort of retraction or apology, etc.

6 chris April 13, 2012 at 5:23 am

What if the board member(s) influence had far greater reach and revealing their identity would double damage the Christian school? Furthermore, what if the op-ed was the next level of getting the attention of a provost gone wild before allowing (board member’s) influence to trump Christian schools reach?

7 chris April 13, 2012 at 5:33 am

What if the approach is redemptive as opposed to punitive? Could not the board really have forced the issue and fired the provost and caused much more personal embarrassment that would have been punitive?

8 Mark April 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Chris,

It sounds like you are aiming for a greater good defense of leaking the information. I don’t know how revealing the leak would damage the school, but that still would not make the initial action right.

Every organization has a process for change. Getting the attention of the provost is not a reason to go outside of agreed upon parameters. Also, the disagreement may not be a clearly moral one, but a matter of ideology which does not give the person who leaked the info the right to push their agenda.

I don’t follow your last comment.

9 chris April 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Mark,

Thank you for your response. I understand your proposition and think it is perhaps jaded by presupposition. My point is in both of my post that what if the “leaker” was truly thinking of the greater good. I know that sounds odd, but suppose the board had reasoned, to no avail with the decision maker. What if the issue was at the point of either terminate the person or allow pressure to build from another source so termination was not inevitable? Based on what your hypothetical stated, there is too little to determine, both my assessment, or your’s (the “agenda” comment, and ideology vs moral judgements).

There are times where breaching confidentiality is both prudent and helpful.

.

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