Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

John Watzke

Second Advisor

Loretta Krautscheid

Third Advisor

Eric Anctil

LC Subjects

Student affairs administrators; Ethical problems; Education, higher--Moral and ethical aspects


The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to discover to what extent student affairs professionals in higher education identify moral distress and associated factors in their roles as college or university student conduct administrators and to identify the sources of this distress according to the lived experiences of these professionals. The application of moral distress from the field of nursing and bioethics was utilized as the framework for exploring this research problem. Through a descriptive cross-sectional survey design that utilized convenience sampling among student conduct administrators in the United States, this study incorporated the previously tested Moral Distress Thermometer. The data were analyzed according to the following three aims: (a) to quantify the extent of moral distress among student conduct administrators; (b) to qualitatively report lived-experience sources of moral distress among the participants; and, (c) to qualitatively describe constraining factors that inhibit ethical action among the participants.

The mean moral distress rating reported on the Moral Distress Thermometer was 4.39 (n = 291), which was associated with the verbal anchor of “uncomfortable.” Sources of moral distress for student conduct administrators included: (a) lack of agency or control; (b) compromised student learning; (c) behavior of colleagues; (d) public perceptions, pressures, and politics; and, (e) resource limitations. Internal constraints preventing student conduct administrators from enacting moral action included: (a) fear of retaliation or job loss; (b) perceived lack of control or power; (c) desire to avoid conflict; and, (d) socialization to follow orders. External constraints preventing student conduct administrators from enacting moral action included: (a) lack of support from supervisor or senior-level leadership; (b) policies or practices that conflict with student development; (c) unprofessional or manipulative colleagues; (d) constraints or demands influenced by campus culture and politics; and, (e) oppressive hierarchies or bureaucracy within the institution.

Results of this study point to several local and national implications for practice. While data in this research suggest that changes could be enacted immediately that may relieve experiences of moral distress for student conduct administrators at the local level, moral distress may be the result of greater systemic issues within higher education and student affairs administration.


Copyright for this work is retained by the author.