PROMOTING INTEGRITY INTEGRITIVELY: AVOIDING THE SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS OF ABDICATION AND ZEALOTRY
Daniel E. Wueste
There is more than a bit of 'ethical neediness' in society. One good ques- tion is what can be done about it. The answer pursued here is that we should promote integrity aggressively and integritively. Directing attention to the arena of higher education and problems associated with academic or educational integrity, the chapter (a) discusses honor codes as a device for promoting academic integrity; (b) identifies and explains a key virtue and a vice of honor codes and, in relation to the values an honor code is meant to safeguard, a significant way in which honor codes are like a professional ethic; and (c) argues that success in this project requires abandonment of an attractive but misleading conception of ethics that suggests, wrongly, that acting rightly is simply a matter of rigid adherence to standards. To be sure, some questions about what one should do are straightforwardly and quite legitimately answered by reference to rules. In this, ethics may seem quite like law (adjudication).
But one has to be careful here, lest one be seduced by the siren song of what Roscoe Pound called mechanical jurisprudence, for in law and ethics, as in the Greek myth, this does not have a happy ending. There is more to the story. In ethics (adjudication too) one confronts genuine complexity that cannot be dealt with algorithmically. This is something that we have to face head on, if we are committed to promoting integrity integritively.
Keywords: Integrity; normativity; legalism; codes; responsibility; values
One way to frame my topic would be to say that I will be focusing on integ- rity and our role as educators in promoting it, within the academy and out- side it, which is where most of our students will live and work. More narrowly framed, I should say that we will be talking about the challenges we face and how we can meet and effectively deal with them. Either way, I am hopeful that it will be apparent that what I'll be on about is rather important if we have set our sights on ethical excellence.
As I see it, our job as educators is to promote rather than teach integrity.
What we should do is help our students acquire the skills they need to recognize ethical issues and to address them systematically, reflectively, responsibly. We can teach these skills. In addition, while we are doing this we can, indeed we must, foster and encourage ethical awareness and com- mitment. This is not an accidental triad: skill, awareness, and commitment go together; it's a package deal. In ethics, skill without awareness or commitment is rather like a tool in a drawer. The value of a screwdriver in a drawer depends on one's knowing when to bring it out and being motivated to fix or build something. We can do quite a lot in equipping our students to be women and men of integrity; but, and this is very important, although what we're in a position to provide is necessary, it is not sufficient. Skills can be taught and honed; awareness and commitment can be nurtured; but actual awareness and commitment, and good faith application of skill, are things only students themselves can provide.
We regularly read and hear about the need for more math and science teachers, and programs are developed in an effort to meet the need. Sadly, with even greater regularity we read and hear about things that reveal what, for lack of imagination I'll call the ethical neediness of our society. Examples are not far to seek and several are ready to hand in the acad- emy's backyard. In April 2007, for example, MIT's dean of admissions resigned after it emerged that she did not graduate from three institutions from which she claimed she had received degrees. That same month, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 34 first-year MBA students at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business were accused of cheating - 33 were found guilty of 'inappropriate collaboration on [a] test, and one student [was found] guilty of lying' (2007). More recently, in 2011, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who was very popular, and widely thought to be the likely successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, was brought down, by of all things, a plagiarism scandal. He had been under scrutiny by German media for what one writer called a 'series of minor scandals,' but it was plagiary that was his undoing (Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC], 2011). On the first of March 2011, one month after Bayreuth University stripped him of his doctoral title because he had violated citation requirements 'to a significant degree' (Globe and Mail, 2011) - reports indicate 'more than two-thirds' of his dissertation consisted of 'unattributed copying!' - he resigned. While media accounts had begun to refer to him as 'Baron Cut-And-Paste' and 'Zu Googleberg,' Bayreuth University President Ruediger Bormann put the critical point this way: the thesis, he said, was 'not the result of correct scientific work.' Interestingly, prior to the official action by Bayreuth, Guttenberg had asked the university to take back the title, because his dissertation contained, in his words, 'serious technical faults which contra- vened proper academic standards' (ABC, 2011).
And then, of course, there's the recent cheating scandal at Harvard. According to initial reports in several media outlets - if you Google 'cheat- ing at Harvard,' you'll be amazed at the number of hits - including The New York Times, Time Magazine, CNN, and FOX, as well as Inside Higher Ed, for example, 125 students were suspected of academic dishonesty. Some cases involved allegations of unauthorized collaboration, others involved allegations of plagiarism. In a statement, Harvard president Drew Faust said, 'These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends' (Inside Higher Ed, 2012).
The case, while still unfolding, and even now, after the individual cases have been resolved, has shown itself to be rather complicated. While things were unfolding, for example, an article was published in Slate under the headline, 'There is No Harvard Cheating Scandal.' After all the verdicts were rendered - roughly half of the 125 who had been accused were asked to withdraw for a semester, in some cases two, during which they would be required to get a job - controversy continued. Part of the controversy was about the 'penalties,' which many regarded as a mere slap on the wrist since withdrawal from the university is a world or two away from familiar penal- ties such as suspension or expulsion. But there was more. A story about the verdicts in the student paper, The Harvard Crimson, included details that Harvard officials had no intention of revealing, in particular, that in seek- ing to find the parties responsible for the leaks and taking some cues, it seems, from the NSA, Harvard examined email of likely suspects, faculty and staff (2013a). This led, after much unwelcome publicity, to the resignation of the dean. But there's still more. A wealthy alumnus, founder of the retail office supply chain Staples, whose son is attending Harvard, cried foul in a letter to Harvard's president; the teacher, not the students, is to blame, he wrote. He repeated his view for the press, of course, and embarrassment Harvard hoped to contain was instead compounded (2013b).
I will not weigh in on the case except to observe that it is interesting that Harvard is now on the road to instituting an honor code, though quite recently it decided against going that way. Apart from the bizarre business with the email, what's being talked about most in this case is the standard fare when, as a result of a cheating scandal, academic integrity is so to speak on the radar: how widespread the cheating problem is, the need for tougher sanctions, honor codes and who or what is to blame. Sadly, the conversation seems to get stuck here. I will return to this point. But first, if only briefly, we should look over the fence of the academy's backyard, into the world our students will enter after graduation as the leaders of tomorrow.
Ethical lapses are familiar in business, of course: Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Pifizer in Nigeria, Chiquita in Columbia, the financial meltdown from which the world is still recovering. The perpetrators are well known too: Bernard Ebbers, Enron's Ken Lay, Andy Fastow, and Jeff Skilling; Bernie Madoff, now the world's best known perpetrator of a Ponzi scheme, and a recent candidate for inclusion in the business bad guys hall of fame; Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which collapsed killing more than 1,100 people the day after a structural engineer brought in to evaluate cracks in the walls had said quite unambiguously that it should be closed. These men are well known for their wrongdoing. And then there's politics. Scandals in this arena often involve the areas of overlap between politics and business. For example, after the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, we learned about some truly incredible conflicts of interest in the operations of the Minerals Management Service, now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. The list of politicians whose activities have come under ethical scrutiny, sad to say, is rather long; indeed, many politicians make annual appearances on the top ten list of ethics scandals promulgated by CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (2014).
Unfortunately, as I stop providing examples of what I am calling the ethical neediness of society, I can't say it's because I've run out of them. Indeed, I'm certain that you or nearly any one of our students could easily add to the list I've provided, if asked to do so. Except as evidence of famil- iarity with current affairs, I'd say that is not a good sign.
We read and hear about such things altogether too often. I don't think I'm sticking my neck out when I say that they reveal more than a little ethi- cal neediness in our society. So, as with math and science teaching, there is a need here. If I'm right in thinking that we as educators have some respon- sibility to address it, an obvious question is what can we do.
The place to begin, I think, is with the idea of integrity. Perhaps no one here would mistake my intent, but to be on the safe side I should say that when I speak of working aggressively to promote integrity by, among other things, teaching ethics across the curriculum, 'ethics' should be understood not as personal morality - implicating norms that, for exam- ple, prohibit and condemn a married man's 'hiking the Appalachian trail' (Urban Dictionary, 2009) to visit his 'soul mate' in Argentina, regardless of whether or not he is an elected official, say, governor of the state of South Carolina, which is where I live and work. No, what I have in mind is ethics understood as a set of normative constraints that arise from one's being, by one's choice, part of something larger than oneself, an enterprise, undertak- ing, or organization, for example, that has or should have its own integrity, which, as I will suggest, should be understood in the same way as indivi- dual integrity should be, as an achievement without closure, as an ongoing project, a task, that entails sustained effort, if what has been achieved is to be maintained.