2014 Michigan Bowl Case Studies
1. Traffic at the Strip Mall
Anthony, a man in the habit of having his nails done once a week, had to change salons when his neighborhood nail spot suddenly closed. Luckily, another had just opened in a strip mall near his office.
Within weeks, however, Anthony began to notice an array of differences between his previous salon and the new one. While it was not unusual for nail technicians to be immigrants and know only a few English phrases for work, these technicians were much quieter and far less social than the workers he had known at his previous salon.
Similarly, he felt troubled by their physical appearance-- many of them were very thin and looked exhausted. And then there were the two mysterious men always hanging around Leo, the owner. They seemed to have little to do in the salon but keep watch over the workers. Though Anthony routinely spoke to Leo and found him quite personable and accommodating, he couldn’t help but notice that the nail technicians seemed fearful around their boss, and even more nervous around his two colleagues.
One evening, Anthony decided to wait patiently in his car for the salon to close. Within moments of the lights being turned off, he witnessed many of the workers climbing into a mini-van being driven by one of the two lurking men. He followed the van at a distance, pulling over when it finally stopped in front of a house, not far from his home. He then watched as the weary workers filed inside the small ranch house, the driver following closely behind.
Another evening, when Anthony walked by the house he happened to see one of the technicians open the front door to collect the mail. When he shouted to her, she put her finger to her lips to stop him from speaking any further and quickly retreated inside.
The next time Anthony was at the salon, he noticed that technician now had several large bruises on her arm and refused to make eye contact with him. In contrast, the two men in Leo’s office seemed to be keeping an unusually close eye on him.
Being a TV news addict, he knew about debt bondage, forced labor and sexual trafficking. He had even witnessed the police taking away, what he assumed were illegal immigrants, at a house that had appeared vacant a few months earlier. Now, he wondered if they may have been forced laborers. The police, in his experience, were not always trustworthy on these matters. They might not have known the difference, or cared for that matter.
Anthony was now concerned that the young women at the salon were forced laborers. He also worried that if he were wrong, it might lead to them being deported or jailed. And then there were the two men. He was sure one of them had followed him home the other night in his car to learn where he lived.
This case is a composite based on a reading of the Michigan human trafficking records maintained by the University of Michigan Law School Human Trafficking Database.
Study Questions for Traffic at the Strip Mall
- How strong would your belief be, in this situation, that the women in the shop were forced laborers?
- If you think that they are forced laborers, but they really are not (i.e., they are illegal immigrants), what will be the consequences for them of your going to the police?
- If you decide that they are probably not forced laborers, but really they are, what will be the consequences for them of your not going to the police?
- Which of these is likely to be worse?
- What obligations does Anthony have towards the women in the shop? Where do these obligations come from?
- If Anthony has an obligation to help the women in the shop, assuming that they are being trafficked, then does he have an obligation to join global campaigns to help women, men and children in other countries who are also being trafficked?
- If Anthony has an obligation to find out whether the women are being trafficked, then does he have an obligation to join global campaigns to uncover secret trafficking operations worldwide?
- Is it possible for him to have particular obligations to the women without having the corresponding global obligations?
2. The Trajectory of A Kitchen Knife
Chicago Academy (CA) is a public charter school that provides students with an alternative means of free, quality education. In contrast to other schools in the area, CA is a smaller school, where the students receive one-on-one attention and usually perform well. Although crime in the neighborhood is relatively high and there is a significant amount of gang activity, the school manages to foster a safe, productive learning environment. One of the reasons is because CA has a zero tolerance policy on drugs and weapons. This means that if a student is found with either, they are immediately up for expulsion.
Carl, an 8th grader, and his brother Kenny, a 7th grader, attend CA. They have been victims of harassment by members of a neighborhood gang on the way to and from school on several occasions. These neighborhood gang members do not attend CA.
The previous week, Kenny was jumped by several individuals from the gang on his way home from school. Carl made an attempt to defend his younger brother, but they both ended up with injuries that led to a hospital visit. They also missed several days of school.
The following week, when Kenny and Carl returned to school, Carl spoke to one of his teachers, Ms. M, about the incident. He also told her that it would never happen again. But he could not specify how he was going to prevent another incident from occurring. The next day, another student came in after class to talk to Ms. M. He explained that when Carl raised his hand to answer a question in class, he had seen a kitchen knife tucked into the back pocket of Carl's pants.
Ms. M is aware of the zero tolerance policy. If what the other student says is true and is reported to security, she knows it will result in Carl’s expulsion. She also knows that if this happens, he will be placed in the neighborhood public school. That school is the one most regularly in the news and has a reputation for its violence. As far as she knows, at least a few the gang members Carl has had problems with, attend that school. If Carl ends up attending that school, the trajectory of his life will likely take a different turn. Ms. M is confident Carl has no intention of using the knife at school, but only as protection getting and going home. Even so, he brought it into class knowing about the zero tolerance rules.
If the incident goes unreported by Ms. M, it is a violation of the school policy and teacher professionalism as defined by the school. Additionally, the reporting student may well lose trust in Ms. M. It also may well be that the reporting student was not the only one who saw the knife.
Study Questions for The Trajectory of a Kitchen Knife
- Why do you think the school has a no-knife policy?
- Do you think there are good reasons for such a policy?
- Do the positive effects of having a no-knife policy depend on there actually being no knives, or just on everyone believing that there are no knives?
- If Carl carries a knife but nobody knows about it, would that be OK?
- If every student carried a knife, but no student knew about the other students' knives, would that be OK?
- How should the teacher respond to the testimony of the student who saw the knife?
- Is it reasonable for her to doubt that the student is telling her the truth? If so, what should she do next?
- What would she have to know in order to justifiably trust the student's testimony?
- If Carl is expelled, what do you think is likely to happen?
- If the school makes an exception for him, what do you think is likely to happen?
- Which of these scenarios is likely to be worse overall?
3. Just Lungs
Born with cystic fibrosis, 10-year-old Sarah was nearing death and in need of a lung transplant. Given that her death appeared imminent, her parents first petitioned the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and then the court system in her home state of Pennsylvania, to have her placed on the adult lung transplant list. There was much public support for her plight, not to mention publicity. A federal judge relented. Sarah received a double lung transplant soon thereafter.
After the decision, both experts and the public continued to debate whether this was the appropriate course of action. Transplant lists and prioritization rules are made with great care by professionals in the field. Medical evidence and expertise are used to decide which types of patients should be placed at the top of the waiting lists. Inevitably, some difficult decisions and judgment calls must be made, as organs are scarce.
Advocates argued that Sarah shouldn’t be deprived of an adult lung just because of her age, as this amounted to discrimination. Others argued that this judge’s decision subverted a careful process that is typically based on medical facts and considerations of fairness. Opponents of the decision also argued that adult organs are often too large for children and many medical risks may result from using them. Still others questioned the parents’ motivations in appealing to the media, politicians and the courts to garner attention to their daughter’s circumstances.
Study Questions for Just Lungs
- What sort of criteria should we have in deciding how to allocate scarce medical resources like organs? Are there rules or principles we can adopt so as to consistently guide us in determining who gets the scarce resource?
- Does the allocation of scarce medical resources like organs differ from the allocation of other resources and goods—say, for example, basic goods like education and housing? How does it differ? How should these differences influence what sorts of rules or principles we take to guide our decisions in how to allocate organs, as opposed to the allocation of other goods?
- Certain procedures—like organ allocation procedures—can be called fair. That is, the procedures themselves are fair. One condition for a procedure being fair is that the rules by which the procedure is conducted be fair. Since existing organ transplant rules are rigorously devised by health professionals, and have worked for some time, it might be argued that existing procedures of organ allocation fair. Does Sarah’s case give us reason to think that existing organ allocation procedures are unfair? Does Sarah’s success in procuring an organ undermine the fairness of existing procedures of organ allocation?
- It might be argued that organ transplants are strictly a medical matter. As such, they should strictly be decided according to rules devised by health professionals, and arbitrated by health professionals. Legal intervention is thus inappropriate. Is this right? Under what circumstances—if any—should medical issues respond to legal intervention?
4. What the Principal Knew
Two students, Steve and Jim, who have known each other for a couple of years, are in a classroom fight in the middle of the school year. What began as a round of “horse play” (confirmed by both boys) somehow then escalated into a full-blown fist fight. Steve ended up pushed against a cabinet, sliding down to the floor with the wind knocked out of him. His worst injury was a small scratch to his face that bled a bit.
Jim, seeing the blood and Steve on the floor, immediately stopped fighting. Both students ended up in the principal’s office. Steve--now seen as the victim – was upset and embarrassed. Jim – now seen as the aggressor – was equally upset, but also very nervous. The parents of each student were contacted and asked to immediately come to the school. A parent for each student arrived within a half hour.
Steve’s mother, upon seeing the scratch, immediately became upset. She wanted justice for her child and wanted Jim to be arrested for assault. Jim’s father became angry upon hearing this and felt that something must have provoked his child to fight. Both parents had to be calmed down by the principal in order to hear more details about the situation, and to learn what punishment the principal intended to give the boys.
Because the students had never been in trouble before, and the fight was reported by all witnesses as having been escalated by both of them, the principal believed both boys were equally guilty of it turning horse play into a fight. But he also believed that Jim did not intentionally scratch Steve. The principal’s punishment, therefore, was that both students should be suspended for three days. Upon their return, the students, parents, and classroom teacher would meet to discuss what led to the fight, the impact of their behavior, and ways the two students might make amends. This process, he believed, would restore the classroom community and allow the students a “problem solving” teaching moment.
Steve’s mother, however, did not think this punishment was appropriate as it would not achieve justice for her child. She also believed the punishment only victimized her child a second time and would never “teach” Jim anything about his bad behavior.
Jim’s father agreed with the principal’s punishment and was relieved his child would not miss more than three days of school in the middle of the academic year. He also did not think Jim was acting maliciously when the fight escalated but rather, was simply defending himself.
Steve’s mother then threatened the principal by saying she would contact the police about Jim--if he did not. Jim’s father, in turn, made his son apologize on the spot to Steve and his mother for his actions. He pleaded with the principal not to let Steve’s mother contact the police. It would, he feared, make a criminal out of his child.
The principal did not know how to proceed. On the one hand, he had to acknowledge that the victim was physically hurt. At the same time, he felt that the victim was mostly just embarrassed by the incident. More aware than the parents that this kind of behavior was common among high school students, the principal also felt conflicted. The last thing he wanted is for Jim to have to deal with the police or the juvenile justice system over this fairly minor school fight. But he also felt he must address Steve’s mother’s concerns.
Study Questions for What the Principal Knew
- Why is it that the boy with a small cut to his face became automatically seen as the "victim"?
- Is there any evidence that his intentions, going into the fight, were different from those of the "aggressor"?
- Should it be the boys' intentions that determine whether they are equally guilty, or should it be the effects of their actions?
- Is it reasonable to think that Steve - the boy with a cut to his face - was harmed more than Jim - the one who emerged with no physical injuries?
- What else does the principal need to find out in order to know this?
- Should the boys be punished in proportion to the harm they caused each other?
- What is it to harm someone?
- What obligations does the principal have to each of Steve and Jim? To Jim’s relieved father? To Steve’s pushy mother?
- Does he have obligations to anyone else that are relevant here?
- How should he balance the conflicting claims that these different individuals are making on him?
- If he tells the mother that fights of this sort are common at the school, what do you think will be the likely effects of his doing so?
5. Values on Defense
Christopher Simpson grew up in a Quaker family, learning from his parents from the earliest age that the most important values in life are honesty, integrity, simplicity, a concern for social justice and, above all, a tireless devotion to peace.
A passion for peaceful co-existence ran particularly deep in Christopher’s family. Christopher’s grandfather was a conscientious objector during the war in Vietnam and spent five years in a self-imposed exile in Canada. His grandmother was arrested during the 1968 Chicago riots and had, over the years, continued to participate in many anti-war protests. Likewise, his own parents were active in numerous organizations dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and had been deeply opposed to both of America’s military interventions in Iraq.
Christopher graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in computer science and—typical for his generation—more than $35,000 worth of student debt he would now have to repay. His intention was to find a position with a nonprofit organization or a socially conscious business that could use his computer coding skills. He would then live simply and frugally, and in that way pay down his debt gradually. Above all, he was determined to support himself as quickly as possible and not be a further drain on his parent’s limited resources.
For six difficult months, Christopher dutifully and energetically consulted with career counselors, attended networking events, showed up at job fairs, and scoured online and social media career sites. All together, he sent out more than 200 resumes. When he finally did receive an offer with a nonprofit organization in need of a new data base network, he took the job, in spite of the low salary. But it did not take long for him to realize he could not afford to pay back his student debt, let alone support himself, on such a low income, no matter how rewarding the work.
Several months later, Christopher was surprised and pleased to receive a job offer from a Fortune 1000 company—a multinational manufacturer with numerous business divisions and a breathtaking growth trajectory. The position was entry level, but came with ample opportunities for promotion. He would be working for a division focused on the creation of high-precision new digital components for small aircraft. The problem was, the company was one of the leading contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense. His work would probably also be used by the military.
Unlike his parents and grandparents, Christopher had always cultivated a mindset that was both principled and pragmatic. And so, after much soul-searching, he accepted the new job.
His plan was to work hard, rise fast, and earn as much as possible in the next three to five years. By then, he calculated, his student loans would be paid off, and he would be free to pursue work that was more closely aligned with his deepest values.
Study Questions for Values on Defense
- Does the fact that a person has no or limited alternatives to performing some action change the moral rightness or wrongness of that action? Is this true of all actions, or only some?
- Do the ends justify the means? ie. If Christopher’s current work is used to support military operations, but he spends the rest of life working to oppose military operations, does that justify his current work?
- What is the value of personal integrity? How does it compare to other moral values?
6. Selling Sugar and the SAT
Joe is a high school student whose family owns the only food shop near the high school. Lots of kids drop by on their way to or from school to buy his family’s snacks. Joe works in the store before and after school and knows that many of these students, particularly boys, are consuming at least a one half-liter bottle a day of sweetened drinks (e.g. Coke, Pepsi--the full sugar ones, not the diet ones).
Joe, a student interested in health, has read about the connection between sweetened drinks and obesity. He is bothered that his family's business is contributing to what is an increasing problem in America and the world. Joe knows these students and sees that quite a few of them are already overweight or even obese. He has raised his concerns at the family dinner table on several occasions, expressing his discomfort with the fact that their business is contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Though they appreciate his argument that selling these drinks to kids with obesity is similar to selling cigarettes to teens, Joe’s parents argue that they need the money they earn from the sales of these drinks to keep both the family and the shop economically viable. They also tell Joe that it is not up to them to tell teenagers, even those whom they know, what they should and should not drink, particularly as the sales are legal, unlike selling cigarettes to minors.
Joe knows his family can barely afford the SAT prep course that most of his friends are taking and he is afraid of jeopardizing their business, and his chance of being able to afford the prep course. So, he decides to let it go and not mention again to his parents that they should not be selling sugary drinks.
Study Questions for Selling Sugar and the SAT
- Special responsibilities sometimes accompany certain roles—consider the special responsibilities of teachers or health professions. Do Joe’s parents pick up special responsibilities in virtue of running the only food shop near the school?
- Joe’s parents make the argument that they’re not positioned to dictate the eating habits of even those local teenagers they know. How can this argument be defended? Are there any circumstances in which it’s defensible to dictate the eating habits of others?
- Joe knows that his parents need the continued revenue of selling soda in order to afford Joe’s SAT prep course. Joe’s parents might thus be justified in continuing to sell soda in virtue of their obligations to Joe, as his parents. Do Joe’s parents have obligations to anyone (or anything) else that might make them decide against continuing to sell soda?
- It might also be argued that Joe’s parents should continue selling soda for the following reason: the teenagers who come to their food shop should have the full range of snack options available to them, because as consumers, having more choices is better than having fewer choices. Are there any circumstances in which we might justify making fewer choice options available to consumers? Are there circumstances, generally, in which having fewer choices is better than having more choices?
7. Special Accommodations
Cynthia is a freelance travel writer for Mode Magazine, a monthly, well-respected international publication. Her contract with the magazine states that she must pay retail whenever she travels anywhere for them, from hotels and restaurants to airlines and rental cars. She also must arrive at her destination unannounced, so no one knows she is a travel writer. The magazine always reimburses her expenses following the trip, within the pre- established price range, so cost is never an issue for her.
Cynthia never had a problem with this policy before. She understands the magazine’s mission statement to their readers concerning travel clearly states that, “The magazine’s editors and reporters pay the same prices you do and travel unannounced to ensure that we experience travel the way you do with no special recognition, treatment or obligations. This also ensures that we are free to report our findings honestly, with no conflict of interest or ulterior motives.”
For her latest assignment, Cynthia is writing about a weekend in Toronto. She reserves a room at a new hotel there via Expedia’s website. She uses her credit card in her married name, as her byline has always been her maiden name, to make it easier to disguise her true identity.
When she is taken to her room, however, it is not the standard double room she requested but rather the penthouse suite--a two bedroom, duplex apartment with a kitchen, three flat screen TV’s, a fireplace, Jacuzzi, wet bar, spa bathroom and wrap around terrace overlooking the city, complete with sun chaises. When she inquires why she has been given this luxurious apartment, the desk clerk says it must just be an upgrade given that the room is vacant for the weekend.
With her husband about to meet her here after a two-week business trip abroad, she can think of nothing nicer than surprising him with this pent house suite for their rare weekend away from their three small children. What’s more, they have a few friends in town she could have over to the suite for a terrace party.
But she also senses this is not just any normal upgrade and that her cover must have been blown. Technically, her contract requires her to call her editor back in New York, tell him the problem, and basically abort the assignment by leaving the hotel right away, and reserving a room at another, since she will not be able to write about the same experience her readers might have if she stays at the first hotel. But she is not even certain she can find another hotel worth reviewing with a room available.
Study Questions for Special Accommodations
- Is it morally acceptable to ignore information that one knows might be relevant to making a decision? Why or why not?
- Is it morally acceptable for businesses to wine-and-dine their reviewers? Why or why not?
- How does Cynthia’s responsibilities as a journalist compare to her responsibilities as a wife and friend?
8. Don’t Be a Bad Sport
The school board members in a mid-sized district have organized a series of public meetings to learn about citizens’ views and perspectives on the number and types of high school sports choices in the school system. The original impetus behind the meetings is that the district needs to cut at least three sports because of budget shortfalls.
After the announcement several advocacy groups form. Among them are parents, students and citizens who wish to get rid of high school sports altogether, even though sports are primarily “pay-to-play” in the district. Another group wishes to promote new sports, not traditionally supported by the schools, such as archery, badminton, bicycling, kayaking and table tennis.
Currently, girls’ and boys’ sports offered by the school district include: baseball and softball, basketball, bowling (coed), crew, cross country, field hockey (girls), equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, swimming & diving, soccer, taekwondo, tennis, track & field, volleyball and wrestling (boys).
The public meetings reveal a wide range of perspectives on the role of sports in high school today. Several argue that sports are too prominent at their school, and favor spending any additional money on academic programs. Others believe that certain sports are obsolete and that others are dangerous, and thus should be eliminated. Another view is that some sports should be favored over others because they celebrate participation rather than winning. Yet another opinion voiced by many is that certain sports are class or racially discriminatory.
In the end, the meetings become very acrimonious. A few board members receive vague threats, “if they do not do the right thing” in retaining the current sports programs. Rather than bringing the community together, the public meetings seem to have had the opposite effect.
Study Questions for Don’t Be a Bad Sport
- What criteria should determine which extracurricular activities are offered by schools - educational value, community/team building, popularity among students, availability outside schools, or something else? What should the role of sports in high school be?
- Who should decide what extracurricular activities are offered by schools - local governments, education experts, students, parents, or community members?Is it morally problematic if a certain extracurricular activity attracts or is associated with a certain group of students (based on class, race, gender, etc)?
- How should the board members’ actions be influenced by the disagreement expressed at the meeting?
- What should the board members do to fix the budget shortfalls? If they should cut programs, which ones?
9. Who Pays for Climate Change?
Some scientists speculate that a global temperature increase of four degrees Celsius could destroy 85% of the Amazon rainforest. 1 The Amazon, located primarily in Brazil, is the source of many of the world’s most important medicines, and other products that are derived from flora and fauna are found nowhere else in the world.
A similar temperature increase, resulting in the further melting of polar ice, would directly contribute to rising sea levels. A rise of a few feet would have devastating effects on countries like the Maldives, whose highest point is a mere 2.4 meters above the hungry sea. 2
Those countries and ecosystems that will experience the most devastating changes caused by rising temperatures and rising sea levels are not the ones primarily responsible for these global climate changes. The most polluting countries – China, the United States, India, and Russia – directly and disproportionately affect climate change. But these countries will not suffer the most from its effects. In other words, although the world’s most polluting countries catalyze climate change, those who produce the least amount of CO2 bear its consequences most.
Peter Singer, a world-renowned ethicist, proposed a cap-and-trade system to cope with the discrepancy between polluters and those who bear the burden of pollution’s ill effects. According to his model, each nation has the right to produce carbon dioxide, but only up to a certain amount. Countries that pollute below this limit may sell carbon dioxide emission rights to countries that produce more CO2 than their allocation.
Study Questions for Who Pays for Climate Change?
- What responsibilities do the more developed and “most polluting countries” have to the rest of the world? To those countries affected most by climate change?
- Is the cap-and-trade scheme a way that the “most polluting countries” can fairly discharge those responsibilities?
10. Unmanned Drone Attacks
The Obama Administration's use of unmanned drones for targeted killing overseas is well-documented and controversial. In the fall of 2011, two U.S. drone strikes killed three American citizens in Yemen, including a 16-year-old. In February 2013, NBC News released a Department of Justice memo that purports to defend the president's unilateral power to kill U.S. citizens without judicial process. 1 According to the memo:
...where the following three conditions are met, a U.S. operation using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. Citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force would be lawful: (1) an informed high-level official of the US. Government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is infeasible; and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The memo argues that when a high-level government official decides that a citizen poses such a threat, the U.S. may legally kill that citizen without any trial or public scrutiny. Some have commented that the memo seems to contradict the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, which established the right to due process and public trial by jury, respectively. This worry is compounded, according to opponents of the memo, given that there is some evidence that the main target of the first Yemen strike wasn't “an imminent threat of violent attack” – at least as these terms are ordinarily understood. 2
Others worry that the language of the memo is so vague that it would allow the president to kill pretty much whomever he or she pleases. Professor Kevin Jon Heller, for instance, argues that the permission for the government to kill “a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force” (emphasis added) is already wide enough as to conflict with international law. 3
Furthermore, the memo explains that an “imminent” threat “doesn't require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Based on previous rulings, the memo argues that the national right to self-defense would extend to killing a person who poses such an “imminent threat” wherever that person happened to be. Thus, the memo seems to allow for the targeted killing of Americans even on American soil without judicial review.
Proponents of the policy say that there are U.S. citizens who pose a legitimate threat to our national security. Capture may very well be infeasible, and some situations may be so dire that killing for the sake of national security could be justified. Some argue that the president should have the power to kill without breaking the law even if the memo itself isn't a very well-written defense of that power. Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, argued that “'due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”4 Holder's defense is that the due process required by the Constitution would be satisfied when an informed high-level official of the US. Government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
Study Questions for Unmanned Drone Attacks
- Is the use of unmanned drones ethically different from the use of other weapons? If yes, which ones and how so?
- Is it ever okay for the U.S. government to kill a U.S. citizen without a trial or other judicial review?