Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Disciplinary and Departmental Effects on Observations of Faculty and Graduate Student Misconduct

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Disciplinary and Departmental Effects on Observations of Faculty and Graduate Student Misconduct

Article excerpt

Socialization of graduate students to the life of academic research occurs primarily in the context of a department in a university. It is here that students learn, formally and informally, what behaviors are expected and rewarded in academic research and what constitutes unacceptable deviation from shared norms of conduct. In particular, this socialization is critical to the deterrence of academic misconduct (20). Unfortunately, as recent, highly publicized cases of research fraud illustrate, graduate students sometimes witness misconduct by faculty or peers in their own programs. While many in the academic community dismiss these cases as the work of inexplicable deviance on the part of individuals, discussions within the academy and in the popular press suggest that contextual factors may be involved. As Victor and Cullen (19) point out, there is growing recognition that social context is critical to understanding moral and ethical behavior.

In this article we examine the effects of departmental and disciplinary contexts on graduate students' exposure to misconduct. Specifically, we analyze the influences of departmental structure, departmental climate, and discipline on graduate students' observations of three forms of misconduct: research, employment, and personal.


Academic Disciplines

Academic disciplines (or fields of study) play an important role in graduate students' acquisition of values and beliefs during their socialization. For many graduate students the primary motivation for entering the academic profession is the lure of working in a particular discipline [16]. In addition to their particular knowledge bases and requisite skills, academic disciplines have distinct cultures with different beliefs, norms, values, patterns of work, and interpersonal interaction (3)(4).

Graduate students' socialization experiences vary depending on the culture of the discipline as well as the nature of the research (4). For example, graduate students in fields like chemistry are apt to work cooperatively in teams with an advisor, other graduate students, and a laboratory supervisor. In laboratory work, they will also be more likely to work "at the bench," in an area already established by the advisor. In contrast, graduate students in disciplines such as sociology generally work in a much more independent fashion: "They are treated like self-employed persons or individuals of independent means" [(4) p. 282]. These students are usually allowed to determine their own lines of research, and they generally meet less often, even sporadically, with their advisors (14).

Academic Departments

The academic department, the primary unit of the university, is the local incarnation of the discipline or field of study (4). Becher and Kogan claim that the department is "especially important in the determination of professional values" [(5) p. 87]. In particular, departmental structure and climate have been shown to affect the professional values that graduate students acquire during socialization (1).

Department structure. Van Maanen and Schein (18) describe six different structural dimensions of organizational subunits that affect the values and beliefs of "recruits" during the socialization process. Of these, four dimensions are particularly important to the present analysis. The first is collective versus individual socialization. Some departments move large cohorts of students together through a common set of courses and research experiences, whereas other departments will work with students "singly and in isolation from one another through a more or less unique set of experiences" [(18) p. 233]. A second dimension is formal versus informal socialization. Formal socialization involves sending graduate students through officially prescribed processes that are designed especially for the neophyte and that clearly set the neophyte apart from "full-fledged" members of the department. …

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