"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Question of Ethics

A hypothetical situation, a hypothetical question:

A leading scholar/expert does something very unprofessional. The action occurs outside their professional sphere but is of a nature that, under most circumstances, would compromise their professional integrity. The action is, technically, unrelated to their research. It is, however, driven by an activist's inclination to "make good" on the policy implications of that research. Under most circumstances, such an action would cause things like the cancellation of speaking engagements and censure within, if not outright ostracism from,  professional associations and organizations. It might not automatically lead to the revocation of tenure, but it certainly could provide grounds for building a case.

However, the "victim" of the scholar/expert's unprofessional action, in this instance, itself has an unfavorable reputation in many circles. While the scholar/expert may have committed more than one crime, the "victim" has done nothing illegal but yet is perceived in a highly negative light by scholar/expert's colleagues, allies, and supporters. Because of this perception, scholar/expert's breach of professional ethics is dismissed, even laughed off. The "victim" deserved what it got. It is itself an affront to intellectual integrity and so scholar/expert's action is fair enough in kind.

Except, scholar/expert's action is the kind of thing we teach our children and our students not to do.We'd punish them if we caught them. We might even fail or expel them.

And yet, it seems, scholar/expert is exempt because, here, the "victim" is perceived as the truer villain.

Aside from any legal charges the "victim" may pursue, what should the professional consequences for scholar/expert be? If this individual were scheduled to give a lecture at your institution, would you support it to go on as planned or push to have it canceled?


  1. I'd attend the lecture since on the person who is made to be a 'victim' isn't the victim in this example. He/she shouldn't be penalised for the wrongdoings of the other person.

  2. It's the one giving the lecture that did the unprofessional thing. The "victim" is not necessarily another person ... but a number of people are involved and have been affected negatively by the scholar/expert's unprofessional action.