Integrity and the Academy: Are Academicians in a Position to Preach About Social Responsibility?

27 November 2007 at 5:41 pm 10 comments

| David Hoopes |

Do college faculty — generally untrained in ethics (except for philosophy professors, etc.) — have any business teaching social responsibility and ethics? This question comes from my most recent post.

I interviewed for a job at the Army War College a few years back. I was fortunate enough to hear a high-ranking general speak to the students (mostly lt. colonels). One of things he said is that he stayed in the armed services because of the high integrity of its members. I know in some corners this will be scoffed at. However, I think there is no small amount of truth to this.

I thought, “Cannot say that about academia.” Why so cynical? There are many things one could complain about. There are more passive-aggressive people in the academy than most other place. Academics seem especially prone to speaking with a forked tongue.

The clearest example I can think of is the tenure process. Certainly the tenure process can bring the worst out in people. Beyond that, it is amazing how sexually biased the tenure process seems to be. It is especially amazing to see how entrenched the “old boy” network is among men who fancy themselves liberal or progressive.

I have no proof that the tenure process is sexually biased. Nevertheless, in management it certainly seems easy to think of women getting left out of the loop. Thus, fewer social interactions, fewer coauthored papers, less mentoring. Now part of this may have to do with where I have worked: schools that have had multiple discrimination and harassment charges brought against them.

Yet, I don’t think this is limited to management departments. It’s pretty strange that an institution that fancies itself as being so progressive is so backwards when it comes to mentoring and networking women through the old (or young) boys clubs.

Here is a link that offers some evidence. I found the stuff at the bottom of the page most useful.

Entry filed under: Education, Former Guest Bloggers, Institutions. Tags: , , .

Teaching Social Responsibility Fundamental Questions About Organizations

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve Phelan  |  27 November 2007 at 7:51 pm

    David, is it now socially responsible to assume that an equality of outcomes is more desirable than an equality of opportunity?

  • 2. dhoopes  |  27 November 2007 at 8:25 pm

    I don’t know. I do know that you cannot make a case in court based on outcome. Intent must be shown. My comments are based on observation. It seems women get hired at a fair clip. But, tenure does not seem to be granted at the same clip. And, I’ve just seen some pretty bizarre decisions that seem to be discrimination. So, I don’t have many facts. It’s just the way it seems to me.

  • 3. Steve Phelan  |  27 November 2007 at 9:43 pm

    I guess I haven’t had the same set of experiences that you have. :-)

  • 4. Rafe Champion  |  27 November 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Two points. First, on the integrity and civility of academics vs people in business, Bill Bartley addressed that in his posthumous book on the economics of knowledge and the mind industry. He concluded that businssmen were not in the race for any medals for backstabbing and unprincipled behaviour. That is corroborated by the experience of a Kate Jennings, a female Australian writer and poet who has been in the US for years, some spent writing for big firms. As a socialist she could not believe the level of civility and decency that she observed (most of the time).

    Second, if there is some kind of problem encountered by females at tenure level, perhaps that reflects discrimination in their favour earlier, so when the going gets really tough the ones who have been favoured are in trouble. That will apply to any of the “disadvantaged” groups that get in under set asides.

  • 5. Rafe Champion  |  27 November 2007 at 10:03 pm

    On that topic, Jacques Barzun had a story about a smart and pretty girl who turned up in his class at Columbia. He marked her assignment C with a lot of comments on it. She came to him in tears, she never got a C in junior college. He said “didn’t your teachers tell you any of the things I put in the comments”.

    She said “Yes, but they never marked me down”.

  • 6. links for 2007-11-28 at Jacob Christensen  |  28 November 2007 at 7:24 am

    […] Integrity and the academy: Are academicians in a position to preach about social responsibility? « … There are more passive-aggressive people in the academy than most other place. Academics seem especially prone to speaking with a forked tongue. (tags: academic university ethics culture) […]

  • 7. Steve Phelan  |  28 November 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Interesting take, Rafe. Are senior faculty then acting rationally to not work with those they perceive as under-qualified? Could the perception that a particular group may be under-qualified then lead to a lower desire to work with qualified members of that group? I would argue that the latter case is a form of discrimination (perhaps best tackled by strict merit-based hiring). However, is choosing not to work with an under-prepared colleague also discrimination?

    Interesting link here on Prop 209:

    P.S. In my experience, large corporations are just as political as large universities.

  • 8. Rafe Champion  |  28 November 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Steve, of course these things are best tackled by merit-based hiring on an individual basis. That is my point. To depart from the principle of individual merit and use race or gender based criteria for entry is racism and sexism straight up. That is why the set aside system is the most obvious form of institutional racism in the US since slavery was abolished.

  • 9. Donald A. Coffin  |  28 November 2007 at 5:33 pm

    My experiences in a university setting must also differ substantially. Not that academics are necessarily “civil.” But in my experience, they are honest, particularly intellectually honest. If something is bullshit, we tend to say so–although, again in my experience, without intending it personally.

    Now, if you really want to see a work environment that has some significant negative features, try big-city government.

  • 10. dhoopes  |  28 November 2007 at 8:56 pm

    All of my non-academic work experience is in small firms. It is harder to be “political” there. I think many people are surprised by how common political subterfuge is in universities and colleges. However, there is certainly a great deal of variance across schools.

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