Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Reclaiming Instructional Integrity: Probing Ethical Lapses in College Teaching

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Reclaiming Instructional Integrity: Probing Ethical Lapses in College Teaching

Article excerpt

Suffering from chronic underfunding and in a headlong race to compete with for-profit higher education, institutions across America are struggling to maintain their operations, and some are forced into desperate measures just to survive. Administrators and faculty faced with these challenges are not immune to compromising the quality of instruction in exchange for increased enrollment and retention. As standards are lowered, the affected students achieve their goals with less effort and consequently become willing accomplices in devaluing the American college academic experience. Clearly, American higher education needs to return to its core academic values. In this paper we review eight cases to discuss the ethical implications for higher education.

"If those associated with our institutions of higher learning cannot resist ethical corruption, what hope do we have for an ethical society?" (Bertram Gallant, 2011, p. i).

Teaching in higher education has seldom received the level of respect it is due within the academy, yet the expectations of the public and political leaders alike consistently emphasize teaching as a paramount responsibility of the profession (Daly, 1994; Gaff & Lambert, 1996; Smith & Simpson, 1995; Travis, 1995; Travis, Outlaw, & Reven, 2001). With research and publication having supplanted teaching on university campuses, faculty have been forced to stake their careers on vitae often padded with publications that frequently lack substantive social value. Meanwhile, institutional leaders have reacted to serious fiscal challenges in the academy by institutionalizing enrollment economics (Washburn, 2005). Consequently, faculty shy away from placing emphasis on quality instruction much as laboratory subjects avoid the behavioral psychologist's electrical shocks.

Take, for example, a faculty member named Dr. Reisner (pseudonym), who is in his 3rd year on tenure track and has managed to achieve a level of quality in his graduate teaching that is envied by his peers. Unfortunately, his expectations are a bit steep for his marginal students, many of whom should not have been admitted to such a rigorous program in the first place. But the university's administration is hungry for tuition revenue as state funding steadily declines. So, Dr. Reisner is punished for not participating in the grade inflation necessary to balloon the university's enrollment.

Meanwhile, across the campus, a business program that has outpaced all other disciplines in enrollment growth is regarded as a meaningless joke by others in the field. These are not isolated examples of a profession under siege from a governance crisis, as evidenced by the debacle at the University of Virginia in June of 2012 and the subsequent review of the institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Johnson, 2012). Even respected leaders who are committed to quality instruction are being held accountable to a "golden calf."

Almost 20 years ago, Kerr (1994) expressed a different concern about academic ethics, referring to a decline in what he called "academic citizenship" (p. 149). He suggested that faculty performance in teaching and research was not as problematic as more service-oriented activities like shared governance and supporting the institution. However, with the attraction of "the potential to exercise power" (Walbesser, 2001, p. x) and the nation's economic crisis driving institutions to pursue funding from any available source (Ehrenberg, 2006), the risks to academic ethics have invaded the classroom, both face-to-face and online.

Departmental decisions reflect a diminishing commitment to the instructional mission and offer another example of unprincipled practices. To preserve flexibility and to reduce costs in the face of swelling enrollments, academic departments have replaced tenuretrack faculty with part-time or contingent instructors. Indeed, the employment of part-time faculty by all types of postsecondary institutions increased from about 32% of all instructional faculty in 1970 to about 49% in 2009 (U. …

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