Book Reviews -- Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia by Steven M. Cahn

By Sewall, Angela Maynard | National Forum, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia by Steven M. Cahn


Sewall, Angela Maynard, National Forum


STEVEN M. CAHN. Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia. Boston: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1994. 109 pages. $12.95.

Freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and freedom of teaching--without these a university cannot exist. --Robert Maynard Hutchins

For higher educators working in a milieu increasingly constrained by legislative and community-based questions about what professors do, Saints and Scams: Ethics in Academia by Steven M. Cahn is welcome and thought-provoking. Originally published in 1986, the revised edition (1994) clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of the professorate in historical and common parlance. With wit and insight borne of experience, Professor Cahn explores the vicissitudes of research, teaching, and service at the graduate and undergraduate levels in American universities and colleges. No topic is sacred. Discussion ranges from grades and examinations to faculty hiring, tenure, promotion, and dismissal. A consideration of the roles and responsibilities attendant upon the concept of faculty governance is coupled with a thorough and significant discussion of the essential nature of ethics in all aspects of the academy.

According to the author, ethics encompasses not only the behavior of faculty and administration and their relationship to students but also comparative merit, that is, grading students as they deserve to be graded, and scrupulous attention to maintenance of standards of excellence. He notes that. professors are in a position to help or to harm students and therefore should be conversant with the art of instruction, not just with the knowledge base. Professor Cahn stresses that higher educators have an obligation to serve students and the academy, and that true scholarship does not occur in isolation. His underlying ethical consideration is the concept of fairness.

It is perhaps the consideration given "fairness" and the definition of the term that determine which academicians qualify as saints or as scamps in higher education. Cahn suggests that the quality of the work of a faculty member should be externally judged. …

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