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.