Academic Ethics: Problems and Materials on Professional Conduct and Shared Governance

By Gerber, Larry | Academe, November/December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Academic Ethics: Problems and Materials on Professional Conduct and Shared Governance


Gerber, Larry, Academe


Academic Ethics: Problems and Materials on Professional Conduct and Shared Governance Neu W. Hamilton. American Council on Education/Praeger Series on Higher Education. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2002.

Neil Hamilton's volume in the American Council on Education/Praeger Series on Higher Education is a response to two important developments affecting American colleges and universities: increasing attempts to apply to higher education corporate models of governance that are, in many instances, based on the inappropriate logic of the market; and the increasing failure of faculty to become socialized in the ethics and traditions of the academic profession. Hamilton persuasively argues that if the professoriate proves unwilling or unable to reverse the second of these developments, it will be unable to resist the negative effect of further corporatization on the ability of American colleges and universities to carry out their historic role as centers of critical inquiry. His book is intended as a practical guide and workbook to be used to strengthen a weakening sense of professionalism among academics. Hamilton deems such strengthening essential to convince the larger society to grant faculty the substantial degree of autonomy that has historically made it possible for them to fulfill their mission as teachers and researchers.

Academic Ethics is divided into three sections of approximately equal length. The first section offers a short, thoughtful history of the traditions of academic freedom and shared governance in. American higher education and an insightful discussion of current challenges to those traditions. The final section is an extensive appendix of key documents ranging from the 1915 founding statement of the AAUP to the 1998 statement of the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) on governance.

The most distinctive aspect of Hamilton's work, however, is the middle section of his book, which presents forty-nine "problems," or hypothetical case studies, organized around five different themes: the duties of individual professors, the academic freedom rights of individual professors, the duties of the faculty as a collegial body, the rights of the faculty in shared governance, and the academic freedom rights of students. Each problem consists of a hypothetical situation, such as a professor devoting substantial class time to material that is irrelevant to the course topic, or a governing board and president deciding to alter their institution's mission and strategic goals, followed by a list of questions exploring the ethical and professional issues raised by the situation. Hamilton envisions the problems being used as focuses for discussion among small groups of prospective or current faculty. Such discussions, he hopes, could be part of a broader program to foster better understanding among faculty of the need to define and enforce professional ideals and standards.

The problems and questions that Hamilton presents are all well designed to stimulate meaningful dialogue, since they raise issues that do not have simple solutions. However, discussion participants are likely to find it much more difficult to reach consensus or generate clear answers to some questions than others. The problems that deal with individuals raise questions of right and wrong that are susceptible of clear ethical judgments, even if the means of enforcing those judgments may be difficult to determine. The problems dealing with issues of shared governance, on the other hand, more frequently raise questions of power and responsibility in which it is difficult to draw a clear line.

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