All Posts Tagged With: "ethics"
An environmentalist argues in favour of divestment
Torrance Coste studied conservation geography at the University of Victoria before becoming a Vancouver Island Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee. He argues that universities should exit investments from companies he considers unethical, like those in fossil fuels. After reading his piece, check out Professor Todd Pettigrew’s argument that divestment is unrealistic.
While the debate around fossil fuel development and climate change intensifies in Canada, there is an effort emerging to hit the perpetrators of this global environmental disaster where it hurts—the bank account. The premise is simple: pressure post-secondary institutions to stop investing—or divest—money from companies in fossil fuel and other environmentally and socially destructive industries.
The call has been sounded through the Go Fossil Free campaign, an initiative of 350.org, a U.S.-based organization that fights climate change. Recently, a group of Canadian university graduates have petitioned Maclean’s to include an “ethical investment” category in its highly regarded annual university rankings.
Prof. Pettigrew on why universities can’t divest
Here, Cape Breton University Professor Todd Pettigrew argues that divesting from “unethical” companies isn’t as easy as activists make it sound. After reading his commentary, check out Torrance Coste’s argument in favour of divestment.
I served, for a brief time, on the Board of Governors of Cape Breton University, and one thing I did during that period was speak in favour of looking into ethical investments. After all, we know from the proverbs that money talks. So if we are talking with our money, why not have it say something important?
Ethical investing, I argued at the time, seemed all the more urgent in the context of university education. If we are trying to teach our students to think critically, shouldn’t we ask tough questions about scholarship endowments and pension funds? Should we give scholarship funds to a student studying, let’s say, social justice, and then tell that student not to worry where that money came from?
Students say prof skipped class for two semesters
Three students at George Washington University allege that their professor skipped two-thirds of their three-semester evidence-based medicine course and then awarded the whole class As, reports WJLA. Venetia Orcutt, who was also chair of the physician assistant studies department, resigned after the university announced their investigation in October. One can only hope that the physician assistants students made up for the eight-months they missed before graduation.
Donation funds scholarships for Afghan women
Britain’s Durham University is under fire for taking nearly $200,000 from British American Tobacco, a cigarette manufacturer, reports the BBC. The donation, which the school says was made “under careful consideration” will help fund five spots for women from Afghanistan who will undertake postgraduate studies in England. Martin Dockrell, director of policy and research with Action on Smoking and Health, a British anti-smoking group, told the BBC that the school should not have accepted the cash. He accused the company of trying to make smoking look more sophisticated to Asian women. BAT denied that claim, saying that “corporate social investment is an end in itself.”
Professor suspended while school investigates
A professor at La Salle University, in Philadelphia, has reportedly been suspended after hiring strippers for a seminar on ethics. The incident, which took place on March 21, saw approximately 30 students pay $150 for a symposium on the application of Platonic and Hegelian ethics to business. The seminar, which was for extra credit, also featured at least three dancers who were wearing either bikinis or mini skirts. Apparently, students were not surprised to see the dancers, as business professor Jack Rappaport, who was giving the lecture, informed students that they would be there. What students were surprised by was the fact that the women allegedly gave lap dances to both Rappaport and students. “I was surprised they actually gave lap dances,” one student told Philadelphia City Paper. “I thought they were just there for effect, like he always said.” After learning of the incident, the college has launched an investigation and other faculty are teaching Rappaport’s classes.
Plagiarism matters more in the academy, and for good reason.
In the wake of the latest plagiarism scandal, there has been more talk to the effect that plagiarism is perhaps not such a big deal after all. People in other fields besides academia are not so uptight about using the work of others, after all, so isn’t plagiarism just another ivory tower formality? Yet another nothing about which academics make so much ado? Is it, in Stanley Fish’s memorable phrase, merely “an insider’s obsession”?
Well, yes and no. Is plagiarism particularly a problem in academics? Yes. Does that make it less important? No. The reason that plagiarism has been and should be taken seriously in universities is not that it is an outrageous impurity or a vicious betrayal of trust, but rather that it undermines the purpose of higher education at a basic level. In this sense, we may call it an ethical, if not a moral violation.
A contrast might make things clearer. When a politician goes in front of a crowd and delivers a speech, she delivers it as her own, using the first person, referring to personal experiences and so on. Indeed, every surface indication is that the politician’s words are her own. Except, of course, that usually they are not. They are probably the words of a team of speech writers who, remain, for the most part, anonymous. So why is it okay for a Premier or Prime Minister or President to take credit for someone else’s work when ordinary students have to sweat it out to credit every single source?
The answer is that the political speech and the student essay have different purposes. In the case of the political oration, the aim is to set out ideas or positions that the candidate or leader is prepared to stand by. It really doesn’t matter exactly who wrote what because what is said is a characterization of positions already assented to by the speechmaker and given as a matter of public record. Even if Governor Firebrand didn’t write her speech to the Twolumps Club, she is still responsible for its content; she can’t turn around and say, well yes, I said that, but someone else wrote it.
A student essay has a different function. The purpose of the essay is to test the student’s mastery of particular skills in a particular discipline. The essay serves as evidence that the student in question is capable of conducting certain kinds of research, synthesizing important information, making a persuasive case, and so on. In a political speech, it is what is actually said that counts; the process is irrelevant. But in a student paper, it is almost the reverse: the particular arguments and conclusions matter little. What counts is whether the student is capable of formulating those arguments in the first place. If the paper is lifted from someone else, it doesn’t demonstrate what it’s supposed to be demonstrating. The armed forces have an annual fitness test; do you think they would allow you to let someone else come in to do your pushups for you? Would they be swayed by the argument that many jobs in life are delegated? No, because the purpose is to test something about you. Students plagiarize largely because they, in fact, can’t do the work genuinely, and so professors must be careful to catch plagiarists if they can. To do otherwise is to certify that graduates are capable of doing things they may well not be. So your doctor misdiagnoses you, your lawyer lands you in jail, and your kids don’t understand grammar because their English teacher is a moron who cheated his way through his degree.
The ethics of taking credit in any field, to be sure, depend heavily on circumstances. A recording artist who pretends to have written a song he didn’t write may be denying a fellow songwriter of well-deserved royalties and may be in serious legal trouble. An executive who takes credit for the collective contributions of her team may be only ungenerous.
A student who copies and pastes his essay from Wikipedia, is trying to get away with something. That’s why we call it cheating.
When a male student posts negative comments about his ex-girlfriend online, does the university code of conduct apply?
Should universities be involved in relationship break-ups that go sour? It’s an interesting question without an easy answer, something the University of Chicago is learning right now.
In January, University of Chicago student Andrew Thompson posted photographs of his ex-girlfriend and others on Facebook in an album entitled “[Name of ex-girlfriend] cheated on me, and you’re next!”
The next day, the ex-girlfriend complained to the university about Thompson’s actions. The university sent Thompson an email telling him to remove the album from his Facebook. This week, after the incident was featured by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Chi Town Daily News covered the story, prompting widespread discussion of the university’s actions.
The ex-boyfriend was clearly in the wrong. He was trying to embarrass his ex-girlfriend and was seeking a form of revenge.
That said, it is not the place of the university to threaten consequences against students for off-campus actions. However, it would have been well within the rights of the university to talk to Thompson and advise him of the consequences of his actions.
This situation is a good example of the narrow line between freedom of speech and a university trying to maintain a good reputation, a line that has been made a bit narrower by the Internet.