The Cost of Integrity

Dr. X, a distinguished structural engineer, received a phone call from an engineering student at a nearby college. The student expressed concern that Dr. X’s famous skyscraper had a serious technical design flaw. At first, Dr. X dismissed the student’s concerns outright but the conversation gets him thinking. Over the weekend, Dr. X sifts through his data and realizes the student is indeed correct – strong winds could cause this famous landmark to topple and in the process kill thousands of innocent people. Rectifying the problem would be no small task and would require notifying the building’s owners, city officials, and the press and might negatively impact Dr. X’s professional reputation.

Consider each of the following questions and evaluate the case study:

1. What is the action or inaction that is the cause for concern?


2. Who or what may be affected?


3. How will they be affected? (i.e., what are the possible consequences?)


4. Are there any laws, regulations written or unwritten that may apply?


5. What actions might be taken and what would the consequences of these actions be?


6. Can anything be done to prevent this from reoccurring or to minimize the severity of the consequences?


Basis for Case Study 2

This case is based on the true life story of Dr. William LeMessurier, a famous structural engineer who consulted on the construction of the 59-story N.Y.C. CitiCorp Tower and was confronted with the possibility that he had made a serious error that had the potential to not only possibly bring down the tower but also irreversibly harm his professional reputation and career:

E. Karagianis. (1999) MIT Spectrum: 11, p. 3. “The Right Stuff. A Question of Ethics.”