Irregularities in the Hiring Process: an Ethical Issue?

©2004 Peter L. Koza

edited 8/21/11


Issues regarding ethics can be sensitive for an administrator to tackle when hiring staff. Although the approach taken by districts in their hiring process varies, there seems to be a common perspective as to what administrators are looking for in the candidate selection process. However, this perspective is normally guided by guidelines regarding the job search process and hiring to ensure fairness.

There are however, instances in which the idea of fairness is overlooked for one reason or another. The possibility of nepotism, hiring a friend's family member or friend, or favoring a candidate for some other personal bias or agenda does exist in the process. It is difficult enough at times to maintain integrity, yet administrators and other personnel do commit such clear violations of process and fairness in the interview process specific to candidate selection. The purpose of this paper is to examine a particular situation regarding a candidate's selection that raises an ethical issue.

A working definition relating to the term ethical would include consideration of ideas related to principled, just, fair, decent, and distinguishing between what is good and evil. Hinman (2003) has defined ethics as the explicit philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices. Ethics is a conscious stepping back and reflecting on morality (Hinman 2003).

The issue at hand is rooted in the importance of ethics when selecting candidates for posted positions. A problem arises for a school district when the principal, on the basis of her own principles, disregards the consensus of her fellow members of the selection committee and opts to recommend a personal friend as the recommended candidate. This leads to the question of whether the principal acted in an ethical manner in these proceedings.


This is a small school district in which interviews are conducted by the Principal and the School Improvement Team (this S.I.T. consists of three teachers, one paraprofessional, and two representatives from the Parent Teacher Organization). The role of the team is to select the most qualified candidate for the position who best meets the needs of the school. There is a rating sheet, which is filled out for applicants based upon their individual responses to the interview questions. Each candidate is asked the same questions and given an opportunity to ask questions as well.

A fifth-grade Language Arts teaching position was advertised on-line, posted in-house, and in the newspaper. Applications were received by the deadline and reviewed to select candidates for interviewing. Due to the "highly qualified requirements" only those individuals who were certified in Language Arts were brought in for interviews. There were 15 interviews scheduled over a five-day period. Of these was a personal friend of the principal who was granted an interview as a "professional courtesy" even though his credentials did not meet those established in the highly qualified teaching standards.

Upon the conclusion of all interviews, the committee selected the three top candidates to forward to the superintendent. Despite the recommendation of the team, the principal maintains her friend to be the best candidate. She is adamant about this and, without the team's knowledge, removes the top candidate's paperwork from the group and replaces it with her friend's. The information is forwarded to the superintendent for the scheduling of the final interviews. In an effort to further influence the superintendent's decision, she informs him that her friend is the best candidate and has the highest recommendation of all committee members. While the superintendent may have an ethical responsibility to investigate the accuracy of the recommendations, it has been past practice, due to an established trust between the committee and the superintendent, that the recommendations be accepted as final.

Response to Initial Criticisms

During a previous presentation of this issue, there appeared to be a lack of clarity regarding the issue. The intent was to demonstrate this as an ethical issue and provide a background with which to do so. However, the background material was not presented, the CCC rebuttals were unclear, and there seemed to be a question as to the principal's role in the process.

In the presentation there appeared to be a common theme among the audience that the principal was not on the committee and that this was a policy violation. There was no policy in place in the district hence; there could be no policy violation. In addition, the principal is a member of the committee acting in concert in order to find the best, highly qualified candidates to fill vacancies within the district.

With the addition of the background and supporting evidence from the CCC rebuttals and Toulmin's model, it should become clear that the principal acted in a manner to promote her own agenda over that of the school. In addition, this action supported an ethical conflict as she tried to justify her decision by portraying it in a manner in which she believed to be morally correct. In evaluating the actions of the principal via Toulmin's model and CCC rebuttals, it can be determined that this principal acted in a less than ethical manner.

Toulmin's Model

Claim: The principal didn't agree with the committee and used her authority to recommend a friend in need of a job. Even though friends are commonly recommended for positions, the circumstances presented here are indicative of poor judgment on the part of the principal.

Evidence: At least three candidates received a higher rating from the committee than did the principal's friend.

Warrant: The committee's objective is to recommend the highest or three highest rated candidates to the superintendent.

Backing: All previous candidates recommended to the superintendent by the principal and committee since the inception of the interview committee and rating system have been those receiving the highest rating.


Cost Benefit Analysis


Benefit Received

Kind of Benefit


Kind of Cost



Interview Committee



Trust in principal and process is broken



(Committee feels principal has erred in judgment)




Support from recommended candidate


Leadership of Principal








Judgment of Principal is Questioned




School Board

Quality of Instruction


Potential Litigation





Quality of Instruction


Instructionally related


Some Months

Somewhat low




Potential litigation costs


Some Months





None (No job offer)


Extending job search




Principal's Choice



Hired due to due friendship




Analysis: Examining the problem using the Cue, Control, Concern Questions (Rozycki, 2001)

This decision potentially harms the candidate whose information was removed, as this individual no longer has the opportunity to be hired. Being subjected to inferior instruction could quite possibly harm the students. In addition, this could serve to discredit the decision of the team members and the process as well.

(change in indicator): What change in the indicator has occurred that makes it appropriate to intervene now? The removal of a candidate's information from the candidate selection process has created a problem with the process. If the candidate selection process is not working well, then it is necessary to change it. However, it is important to devise an objective system reflective of an honest and sincere approach. This can be accomplished by revealing exactly what the process will be and what the criteria are for hiring candidates.

(significance of change in indicator): Is the change significant or is it an accidental or random variation? The change is significant in that it involves the top candidate. It is an abrupt change, worthy of investigation.

(externality of indicator): Is the change really an indicator of something beyond itself? The evidence has suggested this. External factors that have had an impact on the selection process were discovered. This makes it important to develop a set of criteria that identifies the best candidate to meet the needs of the district. These criteria should be prioritized from least important to most important and have a corresponding rubric reflecting this as well.

(Non-subversion of indicator): Is someone being tricked and can someone be manipulating the "indicator" to make it appear as if there was a problem? This is always worthy of consideration and, without a thorough review of the situation and open dialogue the risk of being tricked or manipulated is greater. In this instance, it appears that candidates involved in the selection process are being subject to manipulation.

Concern: Why is anyone to be concerned and what business is it of theirs?   Due to the nature of the problem, the interest of the candidates in obtaining employment is taken into account.

(interests): Is the principal concerned for someone's welfare? It appears the principal is concerned for the welfare of her friend. Student interest should also be taken into account to hire the most highly qualified person who will meet their needs.

(obligations): What obligation does anyone have to intervene? The obligation to intervene would be related to anyone else having knowledge of the principal's actions. It is also necessary to keep the other candidates' interests in mind. The committee's obligation would be to maintain integrity in the interview process.

While helping someone who has been wronged (the other candidates) does not necessarily make it obligatory to offer assistance, most people do offer help in such scenarios. If anything however, the district and/or principal may now be legally obligated due to the knowledge of the situation.

(liabilities): What costs will the district bear by not intervening? Potential costs for not intervening might include litigation, job loss, and a formal reprimand. Because the principal negated the decision of the committee and allowed her personal friendship to influence the decision, there is an increased risk factor to litigation and public outrage.

Control: What reason is there to believe an intervention will work?

(non-naturalness of intervention): Will any attempted change maintain itself, or will constant intervention be necessary? This will depend on the strategy employed and its effectiveness. The answer can only be found by monitoring the situation and the outcome of the intervention. It is possible the intervention may not work and could be detrimental to the situation. In addition, all strategies must adapt to the growth of the people involved as well as changes in the committee's dynamics.

(practicality of intervention): Will the benefits of the intervention outweigh its costs? Yes, this is always the goal. However, this will also be dependent upon the monitoring of the situation. Properly training the evaluators to get a sense of the candidates' flexibility, creativity, knowledge, professional ethics and integrity can provide the opportunity to help them better understand the rating criteria and form an objective opinion about the candidates.

(optimality of intervention) Is the suggested intervention the best way to go about change? It could be. Again, much is predicated on examining the implementation strategies and their effectiveness. This will serve to remedy any discrepancies and be key for the overall consensus respective to the interviewees in the selection process. In addition, it will also help to achieve the goal of a more equitable interview process to employ highly qualified candidates.

Core Ideas

In this activity, there were some core ideas that developed. These core ideas are important and could serve as a future reference if the proposed items were to be further developed or investigated. One idea that surfaced dealt with whether the individual acted or proceeded in an ethical manner. This seemed to be the key theme and it was determined the individual was found to act in a less than ethical manner.

Another core idea that evolved was that of whether there was an agenda motivating the decision. This is difficult to prove, but it could be surmised to be as the principal had an individual she wanted to recommend and moved forward to do so even though this person was not one of the top three candidates. By acting in this manner the question also arises with regard to a conflict of interest. Again, this is also difficult to prove, but some of the evidence presented could lead one to make this inference.

Finally, the situation presented leads to the question of whether the issue is defensible? In this particular scenario the situation could very well be defensible. A case could be made that an error was made due to poor judgment. This would provide enough of a defense to refute any potential claims.

Concluding Comments

Based on the issues provided in the scenario and the outlined information, it appears that there is reason to believe the principal acted in a less than ethical manner. This situation is difficult for anyone to face and there is a tremendous amount of burden of proof. While this is a hypothetical situation, it is one that could happen. Although not as extreme, there have been similar cases to this one in many districts.

In this particular scenario there seemed to be some underlying reason for the principal to want to hire a candidate other than one of the top three originally agreed upon by the committee. There should have been more open dialogue regarding the candidates in order for all concerns to be addressed. Through open dialogue and further discussion to elaborate on all those being considered and their credentials, a team-decision could have been reached amicably. In proceeding in this manner, a true consensus of opinion would result. It would also be an ethical way of approaching the matter and respecting the opinions of each committee member.


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Hinman, L.M., Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2003.

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z., The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass       Publishers, 2002.

LaMorte, M. W., School Law: Cases and Concepts. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Personnel Administration in Pennsylvania Public Schools, 1998.

Rozycki, E.G., "Rationales for Intervention," (2001)

Valente, W.D., and Valente, C.M., Law in the Schools. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill- Prentice Hall, 2001

These web links listed below provided general material from various literature contained on their sites.