Regent’s Robertson School of Government (RSG) understands that its students will face ethical challenges when they graduate and enter the world of government. Professor Rob Schwarzwalder, College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) senior lecturer, recently encouraged students with words of wisdom from his 25-year career in Washington, D.C. working with lobbying organizations and faith-based nonprofits.
“Like character, courage is not summoned without moral preparation,” said Schwarzwalder. “It is formed by many small decisions that accrue and provide one with a moral brace that girds you for ethical combat. If that bracing courage is strong, the ability to say yes to good and no to evil will be made more with far less stress. It will be a natural outflow of your inner life.”
Schwarzwalder shared stories from his days on Capitol Hill supporting congressmen, speaking open and honestly about ethical situations he and others faced, as well as how acting ethically goes beyond knowing and following rules. He pointed out that ethical reforms have resulted in onerous rules, because people often try to find ways around following the law, and these “small” rules create a disdain for the law. Although following the law is important and cannot be neglected, Schwarzwalder says acting out of Godly character with the aim of being ethical is what must come first and consistently.
“Were I ever to go back into government service, I would take nothing from any lobbyist, even if doing so were legal,” said Schwarzwalder. “I received these kinds of benefits not because I had performed some heroic task or because I was so uniquely gifted that I deserved special treatment. With other senior Hill staff, I received these things because of the position I held and the desire of lobbyists to influence me so that I would influence my boss favorably concerning their pet issues.”
Schwarzwalder says taking this approach and gaining a reputation for honesty will make saying “no” to unethical requests easier. He warned students that those who behave unethically may sneer at their reputation, and they may face consequences, but being prepared for this will enable future fortitude. Getting written advice from ethics attorneys and knowing the basics of ethics rules can also help.
“By honoring God in things small and large, you might gain the disdain of some but you will gain the respect – and the trust – of others,” said Schwarzwalder. “You will also have opportunities, as mentioned earlier, to explain how Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of the world – the Savior of all who will come to Him for forgiveness and new life.”
Schwarzwalder’s presentation was part of a lecture series from the RSG, “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” The RSG invites faculty with experience facing ethical challenges in government twice each year to prepare students for facing such scenarios.