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Author Topic: ethics and collegiality in and out academe  (Read 7289 times)
ronin
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« on: February 09, 2013, 3:52:16 PM »

I am considering leaving academe because of the lack of ethics and collegiality that has been my experience as much as the increasing financial instability. But I have worked in academe for more than 15 years and fear idealizing the "outside world". Anyone ready to engage in some comparison regarding ethics and collegiality in and out academe?
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mouseman
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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2013, 7:04:18 PM »

Why would you think that people "out there" are any better?  The financial crisis was not caused by people with a deep sense of ethics and who care about their colleagues.  Academics are actually more collegial and ethical, in my experience, than people in most other occupations.  However, they tend to expect unrealistic levels of ethics and collegiality from other academics.
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In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
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He had softly and suddenly vanished away -- -
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
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pigou
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« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2013, 9:45:17 PM »

We have plenty of bad apples in academia - and ethical issues arise especially when conflicts of interest are involved. But when was the last time a bank employee disclosed her commission, noting that any advice given may be influenced by her employer's incentive structure? Realtors sell their own homes for significantly more than their clients', because 10% on an extra $10,000 may not be worth waiting a month for - so it's better to pressure the owner into selling. The goal is to maximize profits, and ethics rarely factors into that beyond the realization that current behavior influences future profits.

Academics are actually more collegial and ethical, in my experience, than people in most other occupations. 
I don't think people entering academia are any more collegial or ethical than the average person. However, people succeeding in academia seem to be much more collegial and ethical, in my opinion.

Academia punishes those who behave unethically (e.g. making up data) without mercy. Other academics won't take anything they do in the future seriously and all their past work becomes suspect. They cannot just move to a different employer and start over. Similarly, being granted tenure requires - at the very least - that the department doesn't hate your guts. On top of that, the number of authors on papers seems to be increasing at a steady rate (at least in economics) - if you don't have colleagues that augment your own skills and with whom you can be productive, that puts you at a disadvantage. So there certainly seems to be some selection going on that favors both ethical and collegial behavior.

That said, the "private sector" is an awfully broad term. There is naturally some self-selection there as well: you might not expect the most collegial (and ethical) people ending up in sales, for example. On the other hand, there clearly are companies that employees love to work at (Google comes to mind), and I suspect the nice work environment includes a collegial atmosphere.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2013, 11:18:14 PM »

I do think that the proliferation of multiauthors can indicate an ethical problem sometimes.  Some people play "ping-pong authorships" -- I'll include you on my articles if you include me on yours.  In many cases, several of the multiauthors played no role whatsoever.  I've also experienced at least one person trying to force being a free-riding coauthor.

Business is full of sharp and dishonest practices.  Conflicts of interest abound there too.  And not for profits are no-exception.  I suppose that when people in not for profits and academia do unethical things, it seems more hypocritical.  My experience in academia is that conflicts of interest are not at all punished-- and may be secretly encouraged if they "enhance prestige."  Yes, some of the obvious ones are sanctioned (on many campuses, you can't use your own book.  Some professors play ping pong with another professor on this issue.)  The entrepreneurial nature of being a professor is similar to the entrepreneurial nature of being a business manager.  But "agency problems" (individual versus the good of the organization) exist in academia too.  I usually think that being an entrepreneur is okay because the university is consciously interested in putting the needs of administration-- most of these are silly because they at a deep level are about wresting control away from the faculty and memorializing administrative initiatives and exfoliating administrative positiuons--first.  I think that administrative initiatives are conflicts of interest with the good of the university, but they're almost required by the lockstep way that administrative culture in academia moves nationally.  MOOCs, for example, have momentum now, even though they've not proven out in any way.   
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mouseman
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« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2013, 1:06:49 AM »

Academics are actually more collegial and ethical, in my experience, than people in most other occupations. 
I don't think people entering academia are any more collegial or ethical than the average person. However, people succeeding in academia seem to be much more collegial and ethical, in my opinion.

Academia punishes those who behave unethically (e.g. making up data) without mercy. Other academics won't take anything they do in the future seriously and all their past work becomes suspect. They cannot just move to a different employer and start over. Similarly, being granted tenure requires - at the very least - that the department doesn't hate your guts. On top of that, the number of authors on papers seems to be increasing at a steady rate (at least in economics) - if you don't have colleagues that augment your own skills and with whom you can be productive, that puts you at a disadvantage. So there certainly seems to be some selection going on that favors both ethical and collegial behavior.

Interesting point - if not the only reason, definitely a central factor.
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In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away -- -
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
                                                  Lewis Carroll
chocky
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« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2013, 3:41:42 PM »

Interesting replies! I am curious to know where the other posters are based (academia or outside) and what their direct experiences have been. For myself, following a few years in a post doc position, I spent 6 years as faculty (in both Europe and Australia) before moving to a non-profit (US), where I have been for 2 years.  I think it makes sense to consider ethics and collegiality separately. I haven't found them to be related, necessarily.

In terms of ethics, in academia I observed faculty having relationships with students (both undergrads and grad students), but whether you view that as unethical may depend on your perspective and may also depend on the students involved. I saw some instances that I considered unethical (especially the repeat offenders) and some that seemed more like normal, consenting adult relationships. It was notable that in every case it was an older male faculty member having a relationship with a younger female student (or serial relationships, in one case) and in some instances it felt very much like an abuse of a position of power, from my perspective. I didn't observe (knowingly) any instances of academic dishonesty of the kind that are being discussed here. In the non-profit, I haven't seen that either. And obviously the issues of student-faculty relationships doesn't apply here, so I can’t really compare.

In terms of collegiality, I have found the contrast to be like night and day. My academic colleagues were friendly and pleasant enough, but many would do anything to avoid helping others out or contributing to the life of the department. Absolutely nobody in my previous department would stick their head above the parapet in meetings, for fear of being volunteered to take on some new role. Helping out for the greater good was something to be avoided at all costs, and people would fight tooth and nail to avoid additional teaching or admin responsibilities. Why? Because it threatens your precious research time!  Academia sets us up to compete, not collaborate (not with our close departmental colleagues, anyway). Most departments have limited resources and limited people to cover all the work that needs to be done. Those who manage to achieve the most in terms of research are often those who are the most selfish and who look after their own agenda (I have even heard one person say that he never agrees to do anything unless it helps his own CV). Some of this might be an artifact of the system. There were no worries about tenure in either place, since most positions were permanent from the get-go, with the exception of a fairly undemanding probationary period. So even junior faculty could be jerks with apparently no sanctions. Indeed, the repeat offending student-dater wasted no time getting on with that behavior, openly sleeping with a student during his probationary period and still passing with flying colors. But for sure, the general disincentive to be collegial and helpful was evident.

One thing I much prefer about my non-profit role is the general view that we’re all on the same team. And actually, we are. People share their work and offer to help out, and we feel like we’re all in it together, so one person’s success is a shared success for all of us. It is so much more collegial as a working environment. Of course, you have to get on board with the organization’s goals. Unlike (many) academics, you can’t just do whatever you find interesting – it has to fit the overall mission. But personally I am ok with that, and I find the working environment here far more collaborative, collegial, and supportive than my previous academic departments. This also extends to my experience of the management – in my academic roles, that was poor, insufficient, and at times downright destructive and poisonous to morale. By contrast I now have managers who support and value me and a system that is actually much more open and transparent, to my surprise.

I’m not claiming that all non-profits or businesses are like this. But given some of the previous comments, I just wanted to say that my experience has actually been much better in many ways than it was in academia.

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oldfullprof
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« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2013, 4:32:50 PM »

At teaching colleges, I have observed three famale faculty having relationships with students, however.  A couple of guys, on the other hand, I knew from my first tenure-track, had each married two undergraduate students each.  Each had stayed with undergrad wife #2.  They were from an earlier generation.  I have done a paper on dysfunction in non-profits, citing stakhanovism, moralistic competition, dysfunctional leadership, and so on as problems.
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prytania3
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« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2013, 9:19:06 PM »

Is the OP really that naive?

Unbelievable.
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gekko
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« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2013, 9:24:34 PM »

It's not that academics have a higher standard of ethics as much as a lesser consequence of unethical behavior. In many fields (humanities, for example), it's hard to make that case that damage can be done to the same degree as may be the case in government, the private sector or even the non-profit arena. Of course a scientist taking kick backs from pharma may effect lives, but a misunderstanding of what Charles Dickens ate for breakfast is less likely to have a consequential impact on anyone's life.

Some of the most common ethical shortcomings of academics may include:

-Plagiarism
-Relationships with subordinates such as students
-Simply not doing one's job or "phoning it in", often as a result of alcoholism
-Treating adjunct employees poorly, or at least at a level below the behavior they expect of businesses
-Treating RAs/TAs poorly, similar to above
-Abuse of student athletes
-Recommending excessive student loans
-Misstating job prospects for students at all levels, including grad graduates, simply to avoid teaching 101 classes

Etc.

I don't mean to minimize any of the above, but at the risk of sounding like it, "so what, big deal." In almost all of the above examples, there is a minor worst case scenario for even the worst behavior relative to government or private sector miscreants. Imagine a fictional psychopath we'll call "Prof. Finally Tenured" who can now enact his long held desire to dispense havoc on others. What's the worst he could possible do?

That said, I generally trust people who are out for money more than those who have as their agenda vanity or power. Academics are more likely to seek options 2 and sometimes 3. Fortunately, the "unethical" or sociopathic academic is at best one level above a DMV clerk getting off on telling people to start over on a form because a 7 looks like a 1. This individual has a deep desire to control others or assert authority but it never goes beyond the level of holding up a line at the grocery store on a slightly larger scale.


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fiona
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« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2013, 6:16:45 AM »

This needs a reworking of that old saying that the fights in academia are so intense because the stakes are so small.

The Fiona
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farm_boy
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« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2013, 3:00:27 PM »

So apparently the consensus is that the whole world sucks, but sometimes academia sucks a little bit less.
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tuxthepenguin
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« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2013, 4:11:37 PM »

So apparently the consensus is that the whole world sucks, but sometimes academia sucks a little bit less.

The difference is that in academia you have more power to tell others to go **** themselves.
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farm_boy
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« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2013, 4:41:54 PM »

Maybe the few of you who have tenure have that power.  The rest of us need to kiss ass to keep our jobs.
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fiona
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« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2013, 7:04:32 PM »

So apparently the consensus is that the whole world sucks, but sometimes academia sucks a little bit less.

The difference is that in academia you have more power to tell others to go **** themselves.

Yeah, but do you know anyone who obediently went off and did f*** themselves?

I don't.

The Fiona, still striving
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The Fiona or Them Fionæ or Fiona the Sublime

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2much2do
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« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2013, 10:36:42 PM »

So apparently the consensus is that the whole world sucks, but sometimes academia sucks a little bit less.

The difference is that in academia you have more power to tell others to go **** themselves.

Yeah, but do you know anyone who obediently went off and did f*** themselves?

I don't.

The Fiona, still striving

My experience exactly. 
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