Professor, Examine Thyself

By on October 8, 2007

Check out Peter Berkowitz’s op ed, “Ethics 101,” in today’s Wall Street Journal. In his article, Berkowitz points out that, while centers to study ethics exist at many campuses across the country, including some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, few spend much time examining ethical issues relating to higher education. He writes:
Celebrating its 20th anniversary last spring, the Harvard University Program on Ethics and the Professions is among the nation’s oldest and most distinguished. Yet of the more than 130 public lectures by eminent visitors sponsored over the last two decades by the Harvard ethics program, only three deal with the university—one defending affirmative action, one defending the propriety of academics engaging in public debate and one defending academic freedom. The program’s Web site lists more than 875 publications by over 120 ethics fellows and senior scholars. Hundreds of the writings deal with law and politics and ethics. Hundreds explore medicine and ethics. Dozens discuss business ethics. But only about 10 of the 875 publications, and five of the 120 authors, address university ethics.
 
Take away a few defenses of affirmative action and multiculturalism, and a few reflections on teaching ethics at the university, and little is left. All in all, after 20 years of generously funding research in practical or applied ethics, Harvard’s program has made no discernible contribution to illuminating the challenges of university governance, and the variety of duties and conflicts confronted in their professional roles by professors and administrators.
 
Much the same holds true of the Yale Program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics and the Princeton University Center for Human Values.
Berkowitz points to the Duke Lacrosse case, the abuses shown in Evan Coyne Maloney’s Indoctrinate U, the decision to disinvite Larry Summers from UC Davis, and the double standards in Columbia’s decision to invite the Iranian president as just a few examples of questionable ethics in higher education, worthy of serious thought and discussion. FIRE can point to over 160 additional shocking examples (and those are just formal FIRE cases that we’ve taken public!). Thanks to Mr. Berkowitz for his important article, and let’s see if university ethics centers can take a long, hard look at their own institutions. They may not like what they see.

Schools: Duke University University of California, Davis Columbia University Harvard University