The Ethics of Academic Book Reviewing

By Ashley, Leonard R. N. | Journal of Information Ethics, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Ethics of Academic Book Reviewing


Ashley, Leonard R. N., Journal of Information Ethics


The ethical quandaries in Academe are many and various today. But you knew that. Think for a moment about what some of them are. They include (in random order here, because their relative importance varies over time and from institution to institution) the following: there are unfair admissions standards and discriminatory procedures; retention of unqualified or "non-traditional" students at the expense of qualified students and standards; unethical grading and the granting of degrees, from associate in arts to honorary doctorates; questionable hiring and working conditions of full-time and (increasingly) part-time faculty; fuzzy standards and procedures for the granting of merit raises, tenure, and promotion; conditions under which tenure contracts are or can be broken; toleration of student cheating and faculty and administrative chicanery; questions of orthodoxy in institutions with religious a[double dagger]liations and of religious content in instruction in secular institutions; access of faculty and students to adequate information resources, sports facilities, and other non-classroom aspects of college life; fee increases and education at the best institutions going well beyond the budgets of most families, resulting in certain unattractive limitations on attaining the best credentials, not to mention the deleterious e∂ects of students launching on professions already owing tens of thousands of dollars on student loans; dormitory life in terms of segregation, supervision, etc.; wobbly ethics in sta∂ and student employment and athletics; harsh campus codes of behavior and processes of enforcement; weak ethics in terms of grants, loans, funding of research; censorship of campus speech, student newspapers, plagiarism, and ghostwriting (see Bedeian,¡996); bad management of donations and bequests and endowments ("dead is dead" is often heard, and donors' wishes may be ignored); uncertain professional standards in teaching and publication and the arrangements between academic institutions and big business, government projects both overt and covert, etc.; political agendas as they impact student and faculty life; low standards of appointment and of practice of boards of trustees; violating property rights in course design and content (including courses developed for distance learning), lecture materials, research results, and patents; o∂enses against personal privacy and personal dignity; due process and especially the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty; quashed research on taboo topics (in biology, for instance, cloning and possible intelligence di∂erences between races); cozy and uncozy relationships between administration and faculty and between both these groups and unions, big business, government, etc.; ethics of serving the deprived, disabled, poor, etc.; ethics as taught in business courses, journalism courses, medical courses, law schools, etc.; the skirmishes in science (see Gross, 2000); and more. There is much more. Did you miss any mention of anonymous reviews of teaching and anonymous book assassination online? (Publication online is a separate topic, but see Fialko∂, ¡999). Careers and sales are wrecked by irresponsibility, hate, and ignorance there. Academe is said to be held to a high standard of appropriate behavior and to be better able than most parts of our society clearly to distinguish what is legal or illegal, moral or immoral, principled or unprincipled, borderline unacceptable or patently egregious (see Ho∂ert, 200¡).

It may be a far cry today from the original purpose of higher education, which was the preparation of the clergy. The university may no longer be saddled with the task-or able to perform the task-of creating clerics, or of acting in loco parentis. (Today many parents cannot do that.) The older universities' arms have The Bible on them. The newer ones are more secular. Universities changed from serving God to serving mankind and now may have strayed far from the goal of advancing knowledge for its own sake. …

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