Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)


Question: (A-001)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 8, 2003

"Learning tests the ethical borders"

A professor at our university is using his students to do research for which he is charging a company consulting fees. Shouldn't he either be paying the students or donating the work? Am I wrong to see this as unethical? - A concerned administrator.

Dear university administrator: Yes, you may be wrong to see this behavior as unethical - without more information. Professors in some academic institutions are allowed, even encouraged, to conduct research and provide consulting expertise. Depending upon the nature of this professor's contract with the academic institution and the client, there may be no conflict or interest.

Students provide lots of "low-cost" services to institutions of higher learning.

One clear example is major college football which generates large amounts of cash through tickets sales. These athletic activities can provide generous compensation packages for certain instructors and coaches. Perhaps your question is addressing the legality of such activities.

In that area, please consult legal counsel.

If your concern is that students should be paid for learning techniques and processes that could later benefit their own careers (post education) - that could raise yet another question: Is the "work" of the students only "billable" because the professor supervises the interpretation? Is this another form of "sweat equity"?

In this instance, integrity and morality do not seem to be on the "block". Judgment may be. In the meantime, enjoy sports activities and special grants that enable institutions of higher education to improve salaries and benefits for those who choose to serve our future generations through academic service.

Question: (A-002)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on January 22, 2003

"Does college teacher get passing grade in Integrity 101?"

As a part-time, single, female, college student with a full-time job, pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science, every class and every dollar are important to me.

During the Fall Semester of 2002, while completing the second of a three-session math class, at a local community college, an instructor created an economic hardship for me and many other students.

Our first instructor required that we purchase a new calculus textbook that he promised would be utilized for all three semesters of the math class. The cost was $200. Early in the second session, a different instructor decided to change the textbook. She required that we purchase yet another new textbook, with the same price-tag of $200. Following the new instructor's directive, along with fellow students, I returned the first text to the college bookstore and learned that it was only worth (as a used textbook) $15. So, believing the book to be worth more to me in my own Resources, I kept it. For me to earn $400 dollars requires a lot of hard work. Obviously, heavy, unplanned and possibly unnecessary expenditures create hardships. However, difficult as earning and spending the money was, that is not my biggest concern.

My question is this: did the instructor act with integrity in changing the "rules" about the requirements for her class?


It doesn't sound like it. Creating unnecessary economic hardships, with the arbitrary changing of textbook requirements, demonstrates a lack of integrity. At minimum, to change textbooks without a substantial and reasonable explanation is insensitive.

Instructors can design classes, select textbooks, and execute their teaching responsibilities as they choose within the legal guidelines and operational procedures that pertain to their respective institutions. In one way or another, that is what is implied by academic freedom.

There exists a possibility that the second instructor acted sincerely out of a desire to replace a textbook that would truly not meet the needs of the students. The instructor may have replaced it with one which would better facilitate the learning experience. If so, such an explanation should have been given to you. As your question is written, however, it does sound like a change made merely to suit the convenience of the second instructor. Leaders, and instructors who act with integrity, do not behave in that manner.

Such behaviors are not illegal. They do exhibit the lack of a substantive "teacher-student" relationship. While not present in your classroom during and after the textbook change, it would not surprise me if that instructor had lost most of the positive energy that can be so healthy and productive in the classroom.

You will determine how best to communicate this instructor's behavior to appropriate academic authorities.

Question: (A-003)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on April 30, 2003

"Educators at UCLA missing the boat"


Dear Jim,
I note with alarm that the Academic Senate of UCLA, which is a tax supported, public university, has taken it upon itself to pass a resolution to condemn the war in Iraq (now that it is largely over) and place the governing of Iraq in the hands of the United Nations, which has consistently failed to do a competent job with this type of assignment from the date of its formation. I believe it is unethical for a publicly-supported university to politicize its academic role in this manner. Furthermore, faculty members of the Senate who oppose this action of the Senate cannot resign from the Senate without also resigning their jobs as professors at the University--so much for academic freedom! Free speech at UCLA, and possibly other institutions, requires a dissenting professor to commit career suicide! What do you think?

Academic arrogance and intellectual intolerance seem to have joined arms in the controversy you describe regarding the behavior of certain faculty senate members at UCLA. Academic freedom and respect for the world of ideas seem to be the victims here. The UCLA Faculty Senate’s contempt for debate signals the rigidity of closed minds. Refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of conflicting opinions sets in motion the building of "camps" that are readying for the mindless protection of ideas. Universities were never intended to behave that way. For, it is in the free exchange of ideas that new concepts can emerge. Millions of lives have been lost in the protection of these very First Amendment rights.

With reference to academic bodies making pronouncements, well, that deserves some careful investigation. Unless or until the academic charter of a publicly-funded educational institution specifically permits or requires political pronouncements, they seem wholly inappropriate or simply irrelevant.

The interesting dimension of your question about political opinions is that they are quite a bit like religious perspectives. Almost everyone you meet is an expert in each area. Frankly, what the UCLA Faculty Senate thinks about just about anything beyond delivering top quality teaching does not mean a thing to me. Their opinions are theirs and when I want one of their non-academic opinions, I will solicit same.

The problem of self-righteousness, whether religious, political or academic, is that it generally stinks. As with the skunk, you ought never to get into a contest of wills because skunks will almost always reach a point where their only dependable defense is a stinky attack. And, that seems to be the pseudo-sophisticated response by this faculty senate that espouses freedom while cloaked in academic intolerance. The operative word that describes this is hypocrisy. Right now, our society has more important issues to address than the political "meanderings" of a few academics. Today, we need our best and brightest university talent to solve real problems like the killer epidemic caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS. We need communications expertise that facilitates understanding between and among conflicting multinational cultures, especially as rebuilding is required in nations recently delivered to freedom from tyranny. We need business training programs that prepare leaders to function with a social conscience that is built on an ethical foundation. Shall I go on?

Perhaps these academics feel a need to save society. That may or may not be their expertise. Society might be better served if they would spend their time sharpening their pedagogical skills.

It should be common knowledge that free markets, including academic institutions and their faculty senates, must regulate themselves or governments will.

Question: (A-004)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 11, 2004

"When it comes to standards, ask these questions"

As I am about to enter college, a major discussion point has been affirmative action. Many universities across America employ an affirmative-action program. I personally believe the best qualified should be accepted regardless of race. Allowing sub-par students admission because they are considered a minority is still a form of racism. Does being politically correct in this situation debase the integrity of our nation's education system?

Long ago, my father passed along an interesting insight. He said that minor surgery happens to other people. When, as a young man, I asked for the meaning of the statement, my father replied, "When a surgeon was cutting on me, the surgery was always major." Other people, however, could call their medical procedures minor. But Dad's were major. Perhaps this inherited perspective has convinced me that when I am placing my life (survival) in the care of other people -- then, just like my Dad, I feel my situation is major, and my requirements for the surgeon's skills and performance are uncompromising.

So, given that simple parental wisdom, what might each individual reader's responses be to the following six questions?

  • What is level of surgical skill do you expect when you are on the operating table?
  • Would you be willing to accept a person's professional certification of competence simply because he or she was part of a quota system?
  • Will you accept a lesser set of medical or technical qualifications, simply because the "playing field" in our history, or in their professional specialty, has not been level?
  • Will you tolerate someone hired to fix your automobile's brakes or steering who lacks the talent and skill required to confidently make these repairs simply because he or she was "included" in the mechanic's certification process? Would you stake the lives of your family on that?
  • Will you be happy to work with a pharmacist whose credentials were marginally acquired, because in a politically correct world lesser talented people were licensed in order to fulfill a quota system? Would you trust the medicines dispensed by such a person -- even if a mistake could be life threatening?
  • Do you want to fly with a pilot who may have mastered most of the skills, but not all of them, simply because it was determined that selection of students for pilot training should not be based solely upon aptitude or talent?

Sooner or later, standards matter. In some professions, when mistakes are made, people die. As much as we want, and need, for everyone to move forward in achieving life's greatest personal and professional rewards -- excellence still counts. We want the best runners to represent our nation in the Olympics. Should we want anything less in other walks of life? Everyone can and should be afforded opportunity. Everyone can try out for the team. But not everyone wins a gold medal.

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