Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

The Ethics of Mercenary Academia

Posted by Sam D on May 17, 2007

Given something I heard recently I’m beginning to wonder how much actual integrity there is in some institutions, and if I’m somehow missing the point.

Decisions are made in the administrations of universities that have a profound effect on the experience and education of students, so careful consideration in these matters is essential.

But should not the first consideration in the decision making process be those of academic and educational integrity?

An example is credit, otherwise known as ‘exemptions’ or ‘advanced standing’, e.g. when a student comes into a certain Bachelors degree program having previously completed an Advanced Diploma in a similar field, they are exempt from having to complete certain subjects in the degree program.

Now of the following options which seems like the best basis for determining if a qualification entitles a student to these exemptions?

A: Marketing considerations. If we can offer more credit that our competitors then the students will come to us rather than go to them because they want the shortest possible route to a high paying job.

B: Academic considerations. Can the student achieve the outcomes of the subjects they are potentially exempt from or do they already have the information that we are trying to impart?

In some cases exemptions are given for subjects for reason ‘A’ when the previous study has not included any similar material or learning objectives or anything vaguely resembling reason ‘B’. Worse still this is deployed in the context of professional ethics components in some very expensive and prestigious technology degrees. Academics will argue that they can give certain exemptions because the students will never need to do certain things again. But the practice of professional ethics is not one of these things! I can’t guarantee that ethics can be taught. But for certain degrees, universities are legally obliged to at least try. Giving unfounded exemptions for professional ethics subjects in order to attract more (usually overseas full-fee paying) students is not only ethically and morally questionable, but it totally lacks academic integrity and devalues the degree in question.

It leads me to wonder: Under what circumstances can one justify not teaching ethics when one can also be sure that the student in question has not yet had these lessons?

The answer is of course: When you don’t really believe that even trying to teach ethics has any value.

I hope that this turns out to be nothing more than spiteful rumor and idle speculation. I’d be very disappointed to encounter this when I eventually become an academic.


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