Our Universities: Ethics

Universities, to their demise, confuse what they think they can get away with, and what serves their true mission. Moreover, institutions seem to believe they can be known by something other than their actions.  Shortsightedness in spades.

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.”

Elvis Presley


Chicago State University is at it again.  A Cook County jury awarded $2.5 million in damages and back pay to a university lawyer who claimed he was fired in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct by Chicago State’s president and other university officials, the Chicago Tribune reported. James Crowley blew the whistle, and he was fired. It’s a tragic testimony of what happens if it even appears that a university has lost its ethical compass, moral mooring and aspirational anchorage.

Chicago State has been battered by solid accusations of patronage, favoritism in hiring and advancement and every known kind of malfeasance. However, it is not an isle of caprice. Rather, it’s a glaring reminder of unethical behavior far too prevalent on too many university campuses.

What is so disconcerting in the Chicago State University case is that it is an institution committed to the needs and dreams of many first-generation college goers.  Providing opportunity to people far too long denied access to higher education, as a yoke of prejudice, is a noble calling. Unethical behavior at Chicago State is a deep transgression diminishing nobility of purpose and confirming long-held suspicions of many that higher education is a plaything of the powerful and privileged. Not an equalizer, but a stigmatizer. Academic achievement is true north and all else should be subjugated to that.

And, to the detriment of public higher education everywhere, all thoughtful observers wish Chicago State University an aberration, driven by tepid traditions and scheming local hacks.  But it’s not, and the foul play is noxiously wafting to ivory towers everywhere: the tip of a stinking iceberg that a boatload of Ivory Soap can’t wash clean.

With an apology for my oversimplifications, and broadly cast net, universities become unethical inch by inch, to borrow a line from Tony D’Amato’s (Al Pacino) “Inch by Inch” speech in Any Given Sunday.

Patronage hiring without regard for the quality of worker or work is unethical. In an environment where achievement should be the coin of the realm, anything that negates honest effort’s centrality is adverse ethically.

Grade inflation, the valuing of student work beyond genuine attainment, is lying and stealing from students: Lying to those whose performance is overvalued; and in the act of so doing, stealing from motivated determined students whose performance is undervalued. Universities that encourage, or condone feckless grading of students contribute to the diminishment of real and perceived ethical conduct.

Obfuscation of policies, intentions and actions of university leadership, faculty, or staff, is antithetical to what a university should stand for in its transparent pursuit of unbridled truth and insight. Lest you think this is a high-minded, over-intellectualized precept and applicable only to institutions like the University of Chicago or Harvard, don’t. Community colleges suffer when obfuscation trumps transparency regarding important issues because people’s confidence in institutional ethics is demeaned.

Preferential or ill treatment of any person in a university environment no matter their race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation or any other aspect of person, personality or proclivity, is unethical. Universities need to be institutions of the mind. Differences in every aspect of humanity and human nature may be discussed but must be respected. Not doing so is unethical.

These are just a few of the ethical lapses that undermine the veracity of public institutions of higher learning and transform them from bastions to boils.  I admit to oversimplification and broad brush strokes but the examples are too numerous to disregard and too costly to cover up. However, this is not an oversimplification: Well-intended institutions where leadership and faculty undermine the importance of ethical perspectives and subjugate them to politics, patronage, preference, and public relations, demean not only themselves, but the enterprise and its worthy, almost sacrosanct, social purpose.

The oldest public university in America and a perpetual sanctuary of academic excellence can fritter away ethical foundations. The University of North Carolina, through win-at-all-costs athletically driven ethical lapses, has appearances of each of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse noted above.

Chicago State University is not alone. Unfortunately, for this Southside servant to Carl Sandburg’s City of Big Shoulders, ethical lapses have been elevated to habit maybe even criminality, to the detriment of all near and far.

3 thoughts on “Our Universities: Ethics

  1. Bravo! Its almost like you are in my house listening to our conversations. Many of these concerns have weighed heavily on my kind this year. I am a victim of ill treatment due to a newly hired inexperienced administrator not liking my personality. I have worked very hard to develop my critical thinking and teaching ability. Therefore I question what does not make sense, not in a judgmental fashion, but in a way that seeks to understand and refine. I found that this personality is not cultivated but stomped out, and very easily. It only takes one person to act and everyone else jumps on board even if the fadts are unknown. None questions the inexperienced administrator who has made several impulsive decisions. They come down on the lowest paid person who values teaching to the point they are willing to make significantly less money, someone who has grown under mentorship, and someone who loves their town and university. I am not a ladder climber and I am not false to anyone… maybe that is the problem. Thus far I am very disappointed at what I have seen. I am hoping to see change and improvement in all of the areas you discussed. Our future depends on it. For some reason in all the muck I never lose hope.

  2. I wish to support the above post and comment that the incidents all result from an increasing glut of administrators out for the big buck oblivious of quality education. Two weeks ago, an “All Things (Ill) Considered” from National Propaganda Radio featured the plight of poorly paid adjuncts, one of whom was a female who loved teaching having to economically survive by donating blood (a situation that a friend in the UK also faced before finding a better job). “Balance” was supplied by an arrogant administrator who blustered that costs would rise if this situation was changed for the better and feedback by a part-time six figure salaried businessman who could not understand what the woman was complaining about since he was quite happy with the low pay! This is a key example of institutional unethical practice.

  3. Thank you so much TW, funny I have recently considered donating plasma. I just received news that my level three grievance appeal was denied. Nobody cares that the reasons were invalid, they only site that they have the right to get rid of me for whatever reason they like. Fine. Get rid of me. I’m a seasoned teacher whose class just voted to begin 30 minutes early each week because they enjoy our conversation. I know how to teach to different leaning styles and I am culturally competent. None of it matters. I am guessing I will be replaced my an adjunct who will teach 1 or 2 classes. It will be somebody with another job. Who will not be in the department learning, researching, problem solving, and growing. It will be just one more thing to fit into their busy day. There goes all of the progress my colleague and I have made in the education of our undergrad.s. I was lucky to have her mentorship. Adjuncts will be starting from scratch and won’t have the time for mentorship. Once again quality plummets. They don’t care… Thanks again for your support. It makes me feel a little more sane in an insane environment.

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