Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)


Professional Studies in Education

First Advisor

Kelli R. Paquette, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Kelli Jo Kerry-Moran, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David M. Piper, Ed.D.


When faced with ethical dilemmas during the decision-making process, leaders in higher education may find it difficult to make ethical decisions. The decision-making process can be complex due to all of the different factors that influence decisions. These issues include, but are not limited to, organizational pressures, pressures from others within the institutions, conflict of values and beliefs between others and the institutional policies and practices, and individual and situational variables. The purpose of this study was to examine the ethical decision-making process of leaders within higher education and the decisions they make when experiencing ethical dilemmas. The study examined how leaders reasoned or how they processed their thoughts during the decision-making process. The study also examined the individual and situational factors that leaders identified as having an impact on making ethical decisions during the decision-making process while experiencing ethical dilemmas. This research is a qualitative design which examines the decision-making experiences of leaders in higher education and the variables identified as having an influence on making ethical decisions in the face of ethical dilemmas. This qualitative study utilized a multi-case study approach. The study consisted of ten participants, or ten separate cases, of leaders within higher education. Additionally, four of the original ten case studies were studied in more depth and four of their direct reports also participated in the research. The study produced ten themes related to the research questions of this study. There were three themes that were reiterated while responding to all of the research questions. The consistent themes within this research established that during the decision-making process during ethical dilemmas, everyone placed a high value on their personal values and beliefs, the impact their decisions have on stakeholders, and following policies, procedures and laws that coincide with their personal value systems. Each of these three themes promotes ethical decision-making, which supports ethical behavior when experiencing ethical dilemmas.