The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview

Faculty Codes and
Professional Responsibility

William W. Van Alstyne
Duke University
President, American Association of
University Professors
*

A fetish for legalism and a preoccupation with the provisioning of campus codes are not adequate substitutes for a sense of professional responsibility. I agree also that efforts to prepare codes full of exquisite detail may even tend to work at odds with their best purposes. Those purposes are generally to avoid confusion and minimize dispute by more perfectly specifying institutional standards of accountability. Yet, in the process of attempting to eliminate all possible vagueness, three dysfunctional consequences may occur simultaneously. First, so far as the common law of the campus is to be wholly abandoned to the exclusion of written standards, earlier disputes will nevertheless reappear over the precise meaning of these standards. Second, as such quarrels may tend to become quibbles and phrase-parsing contests, they may also be more degrading to the participants by making trivial the larger concern of professional responsibility. In short, badly drafted or merely overdrafted codes do not necessarily reduce disputes, even while they may sink to the level of picayune words over academic values. Third, in the quest for completeness, the codes may waste innumerable hours of faculty, student, and administrative time trying to anticipate an almost infinite number of "what if" situations. Once embarked on a codification, a committee tends to experience the same problem as a person who starts out to spell "banana." We all have a clear notion of how to begin; the problem is figuring out where to stop. Professor Rosen

-83-

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