CATA 339 -- Persuasion 

Dr. Lee McGaan  

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Course Description Syllabus Course Notes and Handouts Course Assignments +

Ethics Cases for Persuasion


             The quarterly alumni magazine at Warren College, Warren Magazine has a long tradition of publishing extended and wide ranging interviews with both faculty and alumni.  Over the years these interviews have sometimes generated controversy since the editors of the magazine have always regarded the publication as a news source.  Thus, they have treated the interviews as would journalists, presenting the views of the source as accurately as possible without concern for whether or not the readers would approve.  After there were complaints about material in several recent issues, the president of Warren College told the Warren Magazine staff to edit interviews and other material in the publication in order to be more positive and supportive of the college's fundraising goals.

            As the next issue of the magazine was being prepared for the printer, the president of the college discovered that a faculty interview concerning a Communication Studies professor's research on organizational decision-making contains critical comments about the planning process by which the college is developing a new curriculum.  In the interview the faculty member states that, "Our curriculum planning group has ignored almost every principle of good decision making and it shows in the quality of their plan."  The college president suggests to the editor of Warren Magazine that he should change the interview to express a positive view of the new curriculum since a negative view of academic initiatives will likely damage fund-raising.  If the interview is not changed the Warren College president wants the editor to pull the interview entirely from the publication.  The editor is convinced the faculty member will not agree to change his comments so any revision of the interview would have to occur without the permission of the professor.  At this late date it would be impossible to cut the interview entirely without either delaying publication by weeks or leaving the magazine with a cover (already printed with a photo of the professor and references to the interview) that does not match the contents.   In the end, the editor of Warren Magazine has final say on the content of the publication. What should he do?


Alice Reckley recently received a degree in Public Relations from Mammoth College and subsequently accepted a position as Assistant Communications Director for Moline College (a local liberal arts institution) working under the Director of Admissions.  One of a Alice's duties is to conduct a slide-show presentation on the programs and facilities of Moline College during open-house days for prospective high school students.  After a recent presentation a prospective student (who is interested in attending law school after college) and his father stopped to chat with Alice.  During the conversation the father asked Alice, "If you had a friend or relative who hoped to get into a top law school, would you recommend Moline College to him?"  She wasn't sure what to say so she filled the silence by describing various successful attorneys who graduated from Moline in decades past.

In fact, Alice knows that two national measurements of academic quality have recently shown Moline College students are below average in critical thinking and writing abilities.  These skills are vital to getting a good score on the LSAT test for admission and for success in the law classes themselves.  In fact, Alice knows she would NOT recommend Moline to friends or family who hoped for a career in law.  However, she also knows her boss and the college generally expect staff members, especially in PR positions, to always present the the college in a favorable light.  She understood that was her job when she accepted a PR position at Moline.  Pressure is on the admissions office to recruit more students and Alice's boss would be upset if he learned she had not been positive about pre-law study.  It is possible that Alice could lose her job if she admits her honest reaction.  Just as she finishes describing the life of a successful Moline graduate and attorney from the 1960s, the prospective student's father interrupts her and again asks, "That's all well and good, but you haven't answered my question.  Would you (meaning Alice) recommend Moline to a pre-law student now?What should Alice say?



Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered that a readily available, low‑cost, over‑the‑counter drug can significantly reduce the incidence of fatal heart attacks if taken everyday.  Generally the drug is safe even when taken in the doses necessary to reduce heart attacks, although some patients will experience intestinal discomfort as a result of daily use of the drug.  For about 1 in 300,000 patients side effects could be more serious.  The beneficial effect of the drug is especially clear when used by individuals who are smokers or are overweight.  However, even with this medication these high risk individuals are still more likely to die of heart attack than if they quit smoking or lost weight. Currently information about the value of the drug in reducing heart attacks cannot be advertised because that use is not approved by the government,  However, individual doctors are allowed to provide advice about the drug to their patients individually.  The NIH (a government agency that evaluates and distributes health information but does not sell anything) has the authority recommend changes to medical advertising rules if it so chooses.

Several of the NIH researchers want to launch a campaign immediately to encourage the largest number of people to begin use of the new treatment since thousands of lives could be saved each year.  A few physicians suggest that the information about side effects be left out of the campaign materials since people who could benefit from the drug may incorrectly feel the risk of side effects is greater than the risk of heart attack.  Others at NIH do not want to mention the benefits to smokers and overweight patients since these people may decide to take the drug without changing life‑style in the belief the drug will protect them from the dangers of smoking or over‑eating.  Thus, the drug campaign could serve to give some people an excuse to continue dangerous habits.  Still other researchers want to reveal all information about the drug, in the campaign, or in fine print on the bottle. What should NIH do? Launch a campaign providing full information on the drug's benefits and risks? Promote the drug but with only partial information about the drug's benefits and risks?  Stick with the current state of affairs allowing only individual advice from doctors to their patients?