When are Public Employees Not Really Public Employees?

Source: Ramona L. Paetzold, First Amendment Law Review, Vol. 7, Fall 2008

In business schools the corporate model of employment reigns, job performance and business efficiency are considered as the ultimate goals, and deference to the employer is understood as the norm. Business students (perhaps mirroring views of a broader public) often gripe about government waste and inefficiency. They are happy that they will be working in the private sector, where they assume that all rewards are merit-based and they will undoubtedly display the merit necessary to achieve personal success. Students often assume that public and private employees face the same issues and concerns. These students do not reflect on the reasons why the public workplace might be qualitatively different from the private one. Instead, private and public employees are viewed as essentially fungible in the roles that they perform. The entire concept of a public employee as playing a dual role – worker and societal/public watchdog – is virtually never considered unless I raise it as part of a class discussion. (And, without an increased emphasis on the teaching of ethics in business schools, the “public watchdog” role that even private employees should be viewed as playing in society may be overlooked by these students.)

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