20 Values

Brad C. Anderson

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, you will learn the following.

  • What values are
  • Why organizations seldom discuss values
  • Types of values
  • Why we have so many different kinds of values
  • How different values interact

Should publicly-funded universities cut programs that lose money? In publicly-funded systems, taxpayers pay for universities. The populace entrusts administrators of these universities with the responsibility to use taxpayer money productively. Losing money signals one of two things. Either the program is failing to generate enough value to attract students, or it is so inefficient that its expenses outstrip incoming revenue.

Either way, financial losses suggest the university is wasting taxpayer money. If we allowed all of society to run with such inefficiency, it would collapse.

On the other hand, publicly funded universities are non-profit organizations. Taxpayers are not shareholders in public institutions. They are customers. They do not fund universities in hopes that these schools turn a profit, but with the expectation that they will deliver a societal benefit.

For example, in many universities, undergraduate science departments struggle to remain profitable, whereas most business programs make money. This struggle is not because there is no demand for science, nor because administrators run science programs inefficiently. Teaching people to become scientists requires labs, which are expensive to run. The science student pays the same tuition as the business student, but the science department incurs additional costs to maintain laboratories while business departments do not.

What price would society pay if we let our focus on profits and sustainability lead us to eliminate science training?

This problem is an example of a conflict between values. As you will learn later in this chapter, cutting unprofitable programs speaks to values of accountability, productivity, and sustainability. Maintaining costly programs for their societal benefit, conversely, speaks to the value of public interest.

As you gain an awareness of values, you will come to see that such dilemmas occur frequently. Difficulties caused by opposing values are some of the most pernicious challenges we face, and they are challenging for at least two reasons.

The first challenge arises from the reality there is merit to both sides of the argument. Our society cannot choose one side without compromising its values elsewhere.

Secondly, we often fail to recognize that tensions between different yet equally important values cause many disagreements. People find themselves on one side of an argument and become blind to the importance of the values driving their opponents.

Values guide wise action. Therefore, those aspiring to act wisely need to develop an ability to manage the above dynamics well. This chapter will examine what values are and then review examples of different values to develop this competency. It will then discuss ways differing values interact in social settings and study the ways organizations deal with value conflicts.


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Values by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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