Dealing with ethical dilemmas is part of the real, everyday life of a university lecturer. However, the literature on ethics in higher education largely focuses on the broad social agenda, academic freedom and issues connected with research. Using an auto-ethnographic case study about a 'day in the life' of a new university lecturer as a basis for discussion, the paper reports the reactions of two focus groups, representing newly appointed and more experienced academic staff, respectively. Applying Forsyth's taxonomy of ethical ideology, it is suggested that there are marked differences in approach between staff in dealing with ethical dilemmas. Experienced staff, accustomed to higher levels of professional autonomy, were more inclined to argue for a 'situationist' position, while inexperienced staff, inculcated into a more rule-bound culture, tended to adopt an 'absolutist' or 'exceptionist' stance. Copyright © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd.