Ellen R. Klein

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Although much has been written by the academic community on the various issues which come under the rubric of Business Ethics--both practical and theoretical--concerning, for example, the moral status of businesses, the problem of relativism, whistle-blowing, employee rights and governance, and equal opportunity/affirmative action, very is little written about the academic community with respect to these same issues. Despite the fact that most writers on Business Ethics are academics, and that colleges and universities are, at some level, businesses (this holds true for state institutions as well), this area of Business Ethics has been largely ignored. Even more ironic, however, is the fact that colleges and universities are notorious for allowing (and often sanctioning) many of the egregiously unjust and unethical behaviors which motivated the development of Business Ethics to begin with.

In this paper I will briefly trace the development of contemporary ethics and argue that there is serious need for a new subcategory--Academic Ethicsl. Capitalizing on both the successes and failures of Medical and Business Ethics, I will attempt to sketch the beginnings of a model for ethical management decision making in academe.

The Ethical Terrain

Ethics, as a subcategory of philosophical study is, first and foremost, a method of critical analysis. This means, at the very least, that any claim, to be rightly called ethical, must be accompanied by appropriate evidence. Evidence in our field, however, is not limited simply to the empirical. While "sciences" such as medicine and economics must appeal to pathology or statistics, respectively, philosophers can, indeed sometimes must, create systems ex nihilo, justified solely through the law of logic.

Nevertheless, this problematic epistemological baggage does not deter the ethics enthusiast. She plods along, undaunted, in search of ethical truths and moral principles. Why? Because she must. Injustice needs amelioration; moral wrongs need righting. So although it may be that no road leads to ethical "facts," the terrain still needs surveying and mapping.

Traditionally, ethics is broken down into three categories:

  1. Normative Ethics, which studies the classical theories like Utilitarianism of Kantianism

  2. Metaethics, which attempts to get a handle on the big, broad, perennial, metaphysical and epistemological questions like: 'What is goodness itself?,' 'What do we mean when we say that 'X is good'?,' or 'How does one justify believing that X is good?

  3. Applied Ethics, the study of ethics in the "real world" via the application of applied normative and meta ethical theories and concepts to actual cases.

Within the subcategory of Ethics, Applied Ethics is yet further specialized. W have all heard of Medical Ethics, Environmental Ethics, and, naturally, Business Ethics. What I would like to do here today is introduce a new applicatio n of moral philosophy: Academic (Business) Ethics.

I invent this applied ethic for two reasons: (1) Injustices in the academy do occur, and (2) Such injustices cannot be adequately handled under either (a) under the rubric of contemporary subcategories, nor (b) without some operational work--there needs either to be (i) a formulation of "principles", which takes seriously the peculiar environment of academia, or (ii) the development of a specific "approach".

At first I thought that Academic Ethics could be a subcategory of Business Ethics, but I soon realized that such a model would be inadequate. Although Business Ethics has branched successfully to adopt subcategories such as Engineering Ethics and Compute r Ethics, and although it is certainly true that academic institutions are, to some degree or other, just businesses, academic institutions are unique: their fundamental goal must be something other than profit, namely the education of their clien ts, i.e., our students.

I then wondered if Academic Ethics could be viewed as a subcategory of Business Ethics while closely aligning itself with the Medical Ethics model. Given that although hospitals are, too, at some level, merely businesses, there are inherent duties that h ospitals qua hospitals my have--for example, to treat someone who is dying but has no way of paying for the service--that are in direct conflict with their duties as businesses.

In addition, Medical Ethics seems to be more theoretically 行than practically based. And although the newest area of Medical Ethics, Organizational Ethics, concentrates on ethical issues surrounding "managed care" as opposed to "the right to die," these more business-like notions retain show much more respect to the more deeply philosophical notions like 'autonomy' and 'personhood' than what is developed by their corporate brothers under the general rubric of Business Ethics.

Ultimately, I realized that Academic Ethics, with its inherent duty to educate, needed the help of the broad and deeply philosophical concepts utilized by Medical Ethics 2; but due to the non-acute nature of its service--the fact that an education is not "a matter of life and death"--an ethic built around an institution providing a long-term non-acute need, could use the practical grounding utilized in the more general area of Business Ethics as well. In other words, Academic ethics needed to become a category onto itself. With this in mind I have schematized the ethical terrain thus:


In the future I hope to wed the best of both the theoretical and practical areas of applied ethics, specifically Medical/Organizational and Business Ethics, into a model that will not only help college and university administrators determine the most ethical course of action in the academy, but will also have an im pact on the broad understanding of ethics in general. At this time, however, I offer what I believe are some important practical considerations toward such a goal.


As is the case with all areas of applied ethics, what first motivates the need for theory and helps train us to the appropriate application of theory in future cases are the cases of the past. With this in mind I will examine the following kinds of cases so prevalent in the academy3:

  1. Hiring for new tenure-track lines: Three people are vying for one position. All three are equally (give or take minor variations) qualified in terms of terminal degree, teaching expertise, and scholarly activity. The first candidate is the "incumbent." That is, he was hired on a non-tenure earning "visiting" line three years ago and has been kept on board year after year with the promise that he will be taken seriously when a regular line comes available. The second person earned his degree from an Ivy League school and, although he has other offers, wants to live in the area. The third has been adjuncting in the department for the past seven years and has just finished her Ph.D. She is a single mother of two.

  2. Two professors at the same institution have the same terminal degree, the same number and quality of publications, the same (basically) teaching evaluations and service record, and the same years experience and classroom hours per semester. One teaches for Arts & Sciences and makes $30,000 a year, while the other teaches for the School of Business and makes close to $60,000 for the same contract.

  3. A professor is up for tenure and promotion. He has an impressive publication record (17 refereed articles and three books) and a record of teaching excellence that is unmatched in the department, despite the fact he is only 35 yrs. old. He is, however, a notorious "pain in the neck." That is, he is a very hard grader and has received a number of complaints by students who claim they are forced to drop or give up their scholarships, he openly criticizes the pedagogical and scholarly work of other faculty (even those in his own department), he attacks members of the Board of Trustees in the local media when they do something in the community he believes is unjust, he publicly ostracizes the president of the institution for making certain decisions--e.g., funding a new parking garage instead of the library, and is forever bombarding the chair of his department with memos concerning what he perceives as personal and professional injustices.
The main questions which arise from the above are: (1) Who should the department hire? (2) Does the university have a duty to equal pay or should "market factors" rule the academia? (3) Should this person be promoted and/or tenured? respectively.

The Problems of Theoretical Work

Given the all too familiar problems with either a strict Utilitarian or Kantian approach to applied issues, Business and Medical Ethics experts have looked elsewhere for solutions. Although almost every text in all fields of applied ethics begins with the obligatory chapter on Normative Ethics, this seems to be more out of a desire to provide the reader with a false sense of scholarship than a serious commitment to philosophy.

In most Medical Ethics books and texts, for example, once the big normative theories are outlined, usually quite briefly in the first chapter, they are soon cast aside, replaced by the basic intuition that what is really needed is a simple respect for persons. Fortunately, however, this ambiguous notion is more carefully operationalized in terms of "principles." The "principles" dominating Medical Ethics are: (1) Autonomy, (2) Nonmaleficence, (3) Beneficence, (4) Justice/Equity, and (5) Promise keeping/Truthtelling. These "principles" are, by the way, merely a bastardized subset of "duties" to persons first developed by W.D. Ross forty years ago.4 Most of the books5 do not concentrate on either the historical development nor the philosophical foundations of these principles. That is, most offer only a glossy treatment of philosophy, a place to visit briefly before proceeding to the real (medical) business at hand--case studies.6

In Business Ethics books and texts the lip service is even more transparent. Business ethics authors make a bee-line for case studies without even attempting to develop "principles." And any attempt to refer back to the big normative theories in the first chapter is clearly contrived.7

I believe that part of the problem is the perception that the audience--students of management or management themselves--will show a lack of patience and/or philosophical acumen with respect to the literature. After all, giving big broad theories their due requires a great deal of metaphysical and epistemological work. But part of the problem is the nature of Normative Ethics itself. It is analytic: Theories are, after all, theories. Even experiments in biology, chemistry and physics need to be "tweaked" a bit here and there to fit the facts represented by the idealized theoretical model. Certainly no more can be expected in an examination of the murky world of ethics.

Softer models formed around "principles" and "approaches" via cases are, it seems, the only game in town, For theory can only go so far; from there, practitioners are on their own.8

With this in mind it makes sense that the development of a new applied ethic, what I am calling Academic Ethics, should grow out of the need to deal with cases indigenous to those of us who work in the colleges and universities throughout the country9. These 行cases, however, should not be its meat. What needs to be done, and in this paper I am only striking a blueprint for this new ethic, is to develop a model for ethical behavior designed expressly for academe. My intuition here is that such a model will grow out of the lessons already learned--both theoretical and practical--from past accounts.

Lessons Learned From Business Ethics

The main lesson learned from the study of Business Ethics is that no amount of discussion will stop corporations from thinking about the "bottom-line." The same, sadly, is true of academic institutions. Viewed from the offices of state legislators, trustees, unions, presidents, provosts, deans and even chairs, universities and colleges are about money--the number of student, state, private, etc. dollars in versus the number of salary, equipment, maintenance, etc. dollars out. This lesson, of course, is a valuable one, and anyone interested in the development of an Academic Ethic must take it seriously.

It is a lesson, however, that must be shared equally by faculty and administrators. Business Ethics did not become important to the corporate world because CEOs suddenly woke up from a mid-night visit with Dickensonian spirits. It became important because they had the rude awaking of the real world. In an age of Boeskian insider trading, Helmslian tax fraud, Keating S & L debacles, Milken junkbonds and just general all around Trump like greed, big business in this country has been forced to reevaluate its image and, maybe, even its goals. The American people lost faith in corporate America. Lawyers were next. Doctors and the entire health care system followed quickly behind. It's just a matter of time before colleges and universities are placed under the moral microscope. It is time the academe, as business, clean up its act.

In my "Who is NOT a Stakeholder in Multinationals?", 10 I try to take this first step. I argue that the notion of stakeholder must and can be made synonymous with the notion of a person.

I realize that the notion of a "stakeholder," so inherent to the Business Ethics corpus is both ethically underdetermined and pragmatically prohibitive. But, at the same time, the concept is too crucial to the field of Business Ethics to completely abandon. Given that it both defines the field as a separate area of ethical study and, though shakily, nonetheless does the lion's share of the work theoretically grounding those management decisions which are ethical from those that are not, to discard the concept at this stage would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Therefore, I have attempted to rework the concept "from within''11 in a way that allows the notion to both actually do the philosophical underpinning of ethical decision making in the boardroom and keep a fix on the real world activities of managers, i.e., bringing it back to its philosophical roots via the concept of "person." This version of "stakeholder" will play a central role in the development of Academic Ethic, especially with respect to the topics of professor's rights and duties and the role of the 行moral administrator in managing professors.

Lessons Learned From Medical Ethics

The main lesson learned from Medical Ethics is that the study of the moral relationship between physician and patient was not enough. Given that hospitals are, also businesses, Organizational Ethics had to be born.

Organizational Ethics, as stated above, grew out of the realization by the medical community that hospitals, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, are businesses. They are businesses which provide a product everyone, at some time or other, needs (and maybe even demands), but has become increasingly difficult to affordably supply. In hospitals today, biomedical ethics committees that once concentrated on questions about the right to die or refuse treatment, now talk more about the right to health care at all, and the goals of "managed care." The main problem facing the hospital administrator today is how to make the professional codes of conducts of their employees jibe with the ever growing cost of supplying the quality of health care such codes entail.

The same is true for college and university chairs, deans, provosts, V.P.s presidents, boards and state legislators. Given severe state cutbacks an the increasing number of private institutions which have lost or overspent their endowments, higher education is at least as sick as medicine.

What is important to note, however, that even in a crisis, the 行medical profession has tried to stay true to its fundamental ideal of respect for persons by keeping an eye on the five principles discussed above. I claim that Academic Ethics must do the same thing.

The historical and philosophical foundations of the philosophy of education will, of course, be as old as Socrates/Plato, and as contemporary as the latest edition of the APA Proceedings. Although there is no time to actually trace and defend as essential any specific ideals, no one will be surprised to learn that the Platonic ideals of creating a good citizen for the good of society, via an interactive, dialectical, method--"committed to enlarging the power and influence of reasoned discourse and imaginative questioning''l2--have maintained themselves as, at least, arguably the most important aspects of an education these last 2,500 years.25

Therefore, though professors do not have the luxury or an established code, as do our colleagues in medicine l4, our profession is as old and as honorable. Furthermore, the appropriate philosophical foundations for a comparable "oath" can be distilled, and the task may turn out to produce something as simple and basic as: "First, do no harm".15

The development of a code of professional behavior for professors, however, is not the main focus of this paper. This paper, concentrating more on the business management aspect of the academy--the relationship between the administration and faculty--presupposes that professors have already internalized, at least 行generally, a commitment to their unwritten professional codes. The job here is to argue, as is the case with our medical colleagues, that such a code should be taken seriously by management when determining all personnel and other decisions.

Briefly, in keeping with the Medical Ethics model I recommend that administrators take seriously the following prescriptions, all dependent on a basic respect for the stakeholder qua person: (1) A respect for academic freedom in general, (2) A respect for a professor's commitment to his/her discipline and the criteria for excellence established by that particular discipline, (3) Demonstrate financial and spiritual support for professors and the research projects peculiar to their disciplines, (4) Give equal pay, opportunity, perks, etc., for equal work, while justly maintaining a commitment to educational excellence, and finally, (5) Keep the promise of the basic mission of the institution.

Such "principles", of course, need a great deal of work if they are stand as the foundation for the development of a whole new applied ethic. Definitions, examples and justifications for their foundational place need to be explored and defended. Furthermore, I leave it open that the principles stated above may not even be necessary, let alone the only necessary conditions for the grounding of an Academic Ethic. But I believe they set up a bare-bones beginning for future investigation and analysis.


What needs to be done now with respect to my research on the this new field of applied ethics is to simultaneous develop the principles apriori while testing their need and use on actual cases in the academy. I am here today to ask for your help in this project.

As of yet, of course, I have no conclusions, only the daily, often painful, experiences of the academy as business and the horror stories of its employees--the constant reminder that our own ethical house needs to be put in order.


l. Although Steven Cahn, via Saints and Scamps, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, (Second Ed.) 1994 and Steven Cahn (ed.) Morality Responsibility and the University, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990, along with Peter J. Markie, A Professor's Duties: Ethical Issues in College Teaching, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994. are said to have begun work in an "academic ethic," my work here is entirely different. Cahn deals primarily with the professional code of ethics for faculty concerning their duties to others in the academic community. My future work concerns, instead, the ethical responsibilities of college and university administrators qua management to faculty qua employees, i.e., what I am doing is more appropriately termed "Academic Ethics."

2. It is interesting to note that Medical Ethics has taken an independent turn towards Business Ethics as well. See, for example, a brochure put out by Midwest Bioethics Center entitled "What We Have Learned About Organizational Ethics," by Robert Lyman Potter.

3. Any similarity to any specific case is purely accidental.

4. W.D. Ross, "Intuitionism,"The Right and the Good, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930. The duty of justice divides, for Ross, into what Medical Ethics has renamed the "principles" of 'justice' and 'autonomy,' and sometimes 'distribution.' The missing Ross duty of promise keeping (divided into the duties of fidelity and reparation) is often incorporated into questions of privacy and 行lying under one of the four big principles. The final two Ross duties: gratitude and self-improvement, are simply ignored.

5. See, for example, Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics, New York: Oxford University Press 1979.

6. This kind of move has been made by John D. Arras and Bonnie Steinbock, Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, Mountain View, California: Mayfield, 1983; H. Tristran Engelhardt, Jr, The Foundations of Bioethics, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986; Michael Yeo (ed), Concepts and Cases in Nursing Ethics, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1991; Ronald Munson, Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1992; Thomas M. Garrett, Harold W. Baillie, Rosellen M. Garrett, Health Care Ethics, Engelwood, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993.

7. See, for example, Thomas Donaldson and Patricia H. Werhane, Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical-Approach, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1988; Tom L. Beauchqamp and Norman E. Bowie (eds.) Ethical Theory and Business, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979; Thomas I. White,Business Ethics: A Philosophical Reader, New York: Macmillan, 1993. On the other hand, the unpretentious Business Ethics, Norman E. Bowie and Ronald F. Duska, Engelwood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2nd, ed., 1990, really does the serious philosophical work, intermingling cases with the theory.

8. This is not to say that a certain amount of traditional ethics education does not increase the chance that good decisions and serious foundations will be reached. In other words, someone who has attended one business ethics conference will be less likely to make expert decisions as well as someone who has a Ph.D. in philosophy.

9. I plan to begin the analysis "at home," but there is no reason to think that this application is exhaustive. International academic work is inevitable.

10. Unpublished work.

11. I am borrowing Quine's, via Neurath's, model of rebuilding a boat while at sea.

12. Peter J. Markie, A Professor's Duties: Ethical Issues in College Teaching, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.

13. "APA Statement on the Teaching of Philosophy," APA Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, November 1995, 69:2, pp.96-100.

14. Again, both Cahn and Markie outline something like a 行professional code of ethics in their respective works (see note #1.)

15. Hypocritic Oath.

Copyright Ellen R. Klein

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