Ethical Standards for Business Professors
| Peter KIein |
You may have heard about the campaign to have John Yoo, author of the infamous Bush Administration torture memo, fired from his (tenured) position as professor of law at UC Berkeley. Brad DeLong has blogged a lot about this. (Here is Yoo’s response, last week, in Esquire, and here is a statement from Yoo’s dean.) Brad quoted something interesting on Tuesday from James Wimberly:
[T]he relevant fact [is] that . . . Professor Yoo is employed to teach a vocational subject, law. This isn’t a prestige issue. Particle physics, cultural studies and remedial English fall on one side of the vocational/non-vocational distinction; law, medicine, nursing, flying training and plumbing school on the other.
All teaching carries with it a minimum set of professional standards on plagiarism, harassment, favoritism and so on. Nobody has suggested John Yoo has violated these. But vocational education should also inculcate the specific ethical standards of the trade in question. It seems at least arguable that Yoo’s probable professional misconduct as legal enabler of war crimes taints his ability to train future advocates and judges. Should a flying school for airline pilots keep an instructor guilty of reckless flying in his own weekend plane? But the same conduct would be irrelevant to the employment of a professor of surgery.
Business administration, like law, is a vocational subject (despite the top-notch scholarship conducted by some business professors). What are the ethical responsibilities of a business professor? Clearly someone who engages in unethical business practices, or encourages students to do the same, is in danger. But what about borderline issues — say, an accounting professor who favors the liberal use of special purpose entities? A critic might even claim that Henry Manne’s endorsement of insider trading is akin to Yoo’s endorsement of “harsh interrogation techniques.” (I think the comparison is ludicrous, but wouldn’t be surprised to hear it from the bashers.) What about business conduct? Certainly a failed entrepreneur can be an entrepreneurship professor; indeed, the experience may even be an advantage. Is a business professor’s consulting activity a purely private matter, or should it have some bearing on his or her professorial standing?