Education Leadership Conference

Ethics is about resisting temptation and then understanding why you're doing so, higher education law expert Ann Franke, JD, of Wise Results, LLC, told participants at APA's 2013 Education Leadership Conference.

Franke provided an overview of common ethical issues within academia, using the seven deadly sins as a framework:

  • Sloth. One example of sloth is plagiarism. "In this Internet culture, cut and paste is so easy," said Franke. "And attributing sources is something students don't quite get so very often." Faculty must think about how to define plagiarism, model ethical values for students and respond to violations of those values.
  • Gluttony. While alcohol and substance abuse issues among students receive much attention, less attention is paid to such problems among faculty, said Franke. Psychologists are well-placed to become resources for addressing this issue, she said, inviting participants to initiate frank discussions in their institutions.
  • Lust. Most universities now have policies forbidding romantic relationships between faculty and students, either altogether or when there's a supervisory relationship. "Nonetheless," said Franke, "this deadly sin is still very much with us."
  • Greed. Academia sees plenty of financial greed, whether it's conflict of interest in research or outright embezzlement. But greed also takes the form of research fraud. With pressures to publish or perish, Franke said, "people are greedy for publications and the prestige that goes along with spectacular research results" and may be tempted to fake results.
  • Pride. Franke cited a long list of academics falsely claiming such credentials as doctorates, Rhodes scholarships and Navy SEAL status. "Check those credentials," she urged. "This is not something to take on good faith because there are people without good faith out there in the world."
  • Envy. One particularly sticky issue is denial of tenure, which Franke said often comes down to junior faculty claiming in court that senior faculty are simply jealous of their greater productivity. Consistent feedback before junior faculty come up for tenure is one way to avoid such problems. It borders on unethical to string junior faculty along, then deny them the tenure they've been expecting, she said.
  • Wrath. Whistle-blowers often face adverse consequences, said Franke. "It happens more times than I care to recount," she said, citing cases of universities retaliating by firing individuals. Fortunately, said Franke, "juries really understand payback and revenge" and often award large settlements.

When you spot one of these or other ethical infractions, try a "bystander intervention" by informally engaging the person, Franke suggested. If that doesn't work, turn to formal processes, such as ethics or fraud hotlines or grievance procedures.

— Rebecca A. Clay

APA's 2013 Education Leadership Conference