Week 13: Personal Ethics

I think a lot about ethics, especially since this class. As an instructor, I have real ethical dilemmas that come up and that I have the power to influence. I think the main realization that I have come to is that there are no (or at least not many) absolutes. That for every good and moral act there are certain situations that can turn that same act into something that does harm to someone. I try to be consistent but I’m not guided by absolutes.

For instance, I had a student make a mistake in their citations that would obviously be counted as plagiarism. The student was a freshman and had come from one of the worst high schools in the state of Virginia. I sat down and talked with her about her paper and asked her about the issues with her citations. I believed her when she said that she had never been exposed to these ideas before. She was currently in the University 101 class that teaches students about plagiarism and citations but they hadn’t gotten to that section yet. Rather than report the student, I took off points and gave her an opportunity to redo the whole thing and put the correct citations in.

I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do or not because I have referred other students to the integrity board, but I also don’t think it would be ethical to put such a dark strike against the student who was obviously making an effort and doing her best. The better teaching moment I thought was to allow her to fix her mistake.

This class has made me think about ethics and the classroom in new ways.

Week 12: The State of Higher Education Today

I watched the shorter of the two videos today and found it really disturbing. As someone that wants to go into higher education, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the problems I see on a daily basis. Apathetic students, apathetic teachers (they have checked out years ago), teaching Institutions run like businesses where efficiency always wins out over effectiveness.

I’ve taught at both Virginia Tech and Radford University. I would say that I spend 10% of my classes at Radford trying to convince students that a liberal education has benefits to them, their families, and the world. That’s a lot of time. I used to give two or three big speeches a semester talking about all the ways that this subject can help them. Now I just have one at the beginning of the year and try to say a little something at the end of every class. The students I have struggle with basic reading and writing skills. They are overwhelmed and disinterested in the material and have very little understanding about the broader world they live in. The rate of graduating is very low relative to the rest of Virginia.

Increasingly I believe that the major problem is that many of my students are not ready to be in a 4-year liberal arts program and would be better served getting the experience and job skills that are offered at vocational programs, community colleges or the military.

I do not look at any of those options as a step down the prestige ladder. I think that they are great options and options that would suit many of my current students better. If a student pays thousands and thousands of dollars to a four-year program and they leave after 3 years without completing a degree or gaining an education, the system has failed them. They have essentially gone to a three-year-long party and are not any more prepared for the world than when they showed up.

I think part of the problem with higher education is students are being funneled into expensive 4-year programs when their interests are not being served by being there. I think it’s time that we started looking not at making money for universities but at helping students reach their full potential, whatever that may be.


Week 11: My discipline’s code of conduct

I looked through the code of conduct that the most prominent professional organization for political scientist put’s out. The APSA Ethics Guide was published in 2012 and was interesting and instructive to read.

I think that they did a very good job of balancing political scientist’s interest as faculty members or members of institutions with the rights they are guaranteed as citizens to express themselves. I liked that they said for faculty members, their primary obligation is to the institution and to the students that they teach. The guide also said that while professors are free to make political statements as individuals not connected to the institution they should avoid taking political positions as a department or institution.

This made me think about the events that occurred with Steve Bannon at Virginia Tech. By commenting on Steve Bannon wasn’t the institution of Virginia Tech essentially making a political statement? I was all for bad mouthing the guy when I heard about this, but now I’m trying to square the broader ethical implications of this action.

I contrasted these rules with the rules I faced in the military. The military obviously has stricter and more easily enforceable rules governing when and how you can express yourself. The risk for ignoring the rules can be more severe and immediate for service members. If for instance a sailor wearing the Uniform of the US Navy goes to a public rally and says that he hates all the people in Germany, the servicemembers in Germany may face greater threats while stationed there.

Week 10: Copyright in the classroom

This is the first reading that I think may have given me serious pause about my own classroom behavior. Typically I will use videos and other content during my lectures. I think that my undergraduate students have trouble responding to the straight lecture model that I grew up with.

The videos that I’m using may or may not be protected under copyright laws. I was under the false impression that if it is for educational purposes and not commercial purposes there were little to no restrictions on what I use and how I use it. This is clearly not the case.

I found the readings instructive in what I can or can not use and will definitely not only change some of my behaviors but research this issue more and talk to colleagues who may be under the same false assumptions.

I found the VT Fair Use Analysis Tool very helpful. I may not use this for everything that I show in my classes, but I entered probably 5 different products into it and that really helped me figure out what was off limits.

I wish that I had been further exposed to this information at the beginning of my teaching.

Week 9: Final Project

I would like to explore how the class concepts have related to my actual teaching experiences at both Virginia Tech and at Radford University. I will compare the academic integrity programs at both schools and combine that with my own anecdotal experiences as well as relevant research. There are many similarities in the underlying goals of both policies regarding plagiarism and cheating, but how those two programs are executed and what is expected as an instructor are very different.

The purpose of the paper would be to expose future GTAs and adjunct faculty to the different environments they may find themselves in as they enter the teaching profession. The policies and experiences at Virginia Tech do not always translate directly to different types of institutions who have their own culture regarding ethics in the classroom. At times I personally felt challenged by the different cultures and had to figure out how to navigate them in a way that was both fair and ethical.

This paper essentially is a discussion that I wish I had had, prior to starting my position as an adjunct faculty. Topics will include the process for reporting discrepancies to the university, how teachers use their discretion in such instances and the guidance and support that new adjunct faculty is given in navigating these systems.

Week 8: Authorship

So far everything I’ve written has one author only, me. I haven’t had the experience of co-authorship yet, so many the concepts from this week were relatively new to me.

I have fortunately had one of my teaching mentors relate her experience to me, in the hopes that I would avoid the pitfalls that she had to work through. She said that as a student she had co-written a paper with one of her committee members. She claims that the work was essentially 50/50 on the publication, but that after she had left her institution and the paper was finally published there was only 1 author listed. She was not that author. As a young faculty member at a small liberal arts school, she said that it was really difficult for her to argue against the tenured faculty member who was listed as the sole author. The faculty member had a lot sway and was an important member and leader in the school’s Political Science department. Eventually, this situation was resolved, but it was a lot of work and stress for my mentor.

I think the best way to avoid this type of interaction is to be very clear from the beginning how authorship for a shared project will look at the end. The guides that this week’s reading offered are helpful frameworks to start that conversation.

Week 7: Citations

This could not be a more timely reading. This week I had a student who had written a paper without attributing the words and ideas she used to the original author. It was such a blatant case of plagiarism that I felt compelled to refer the student to the academic integrity board at the university I teach at.

During the next class, we discussed as a group some of the fundamentals of good citations and why we need to do this as scholars. There were a number of students who were having trouble citing work and I think it was a beneficial lesson.

The students brought up at least two questions about some of the finer points in citations that I didn’t know. I said that I would research the answer and get back to them. I take for granted that I try to cite work correctly and that I am experienced in it. Going through the last couple of weeks has made me reexamine my own citation strategies and teaching students has definitely made my own research stronger.

Week 6:

I really like the video that we reviewed this week. Even though it was a little cheesy,  it helped to take the ethical concerns that we have been reading about seem less abstract. I haven’t been part of the research situation like this, but it something we hear about a lot.

I think that especially in today’s environment where the public and elected officials are not giving their full confidence to academics and scientist and researchers, we all have to do our best to be above reproach. Issues like global warming become muddled in the public debate when the public, begins to trust charismatic but non-experts over experts in the field.

In the video, I was the graduate student Kim who had to report Gregg. There were times when I realized how social and departmental pressures could be a barrier to the types of actions that this situation required. I’m happy I went through the exercise to hopefully better prepare me if something like this comes up at a later date. In the military, we trained for every contingency that we could think of before going on a mission. The scenarios that we encountered didn’t always come true but we were better able to do our job when we prepared for them.


Week 5: Ethics in the classroom

This is one of the moral difficult readings for me. I really have anxiety about cheating and plagiarism in my classrooms. I have had instances when the student turns in papers or answers that are plagiarized. I usually begin every instance of an infraction or a possible infraction by talking to my supervisor or a faculty member I trust. I don’t necessarily give the mentor details about who the student is, but I look for their experience in similar situations. They’ve given me a lot of ways to handle the issue including reporting it at times.

One of the ways that I have handled cheating is to try to create assessments that are difficult to cheat on. Rather than students picking A, B, C, or D in a multiple choice exam, I will try to assess them using essays or short answers. In political science and international relations, we have the luxury of testing a student’s critical thinking. I don’t want to make an assessment typically where the student can pass by just parroting back the facts that I gave to him or her.

I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this topic. It’s something that unfortunately is not going away.

Week 4: Ethics in Teaching

This weeks reading reminded me of the reasons I wanted to teach. I had a handful of teachers who have helped me over the years and did so ethically. I had an IR professor who was very vocally in one theories camp. He never said that I needed to see the world the way that he did, but he was honest about his own views. I was very early in my education and didn’t know much about the field, I questioned him about his theoretical camp and brought up one of the major flaws in it. He thought about it for a minute and then looked me in the eye and said, yes that was true.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but he could have very easily lied or exaggerated or told me a half-truth; because I was so ignorant I wouldn’t have known the difference. He took the high road and it made all the difference in the world to me. He allowed me to come to my own conclusions.

Not all of my professors have been ethical or competent, but the good ones have made all the time and money I’ve spent on education worth it.