The Ethical Professor

Provides a short introduction to a book on ethical dilemmas in academic careers

Last week Lorraine Eden alerted the AIB community to her newly published book: The Ethical Professor, co-authored by Kathy Lund Dean and Paul M. Vaaler. In a time of increasingly scarce library resources, it is particulary pleasing to hear that it is available to read for free for sixty days via this link. The link will expire mid-October 2018, so hurry if you'd like to have a look at the book.

The book is about ethical dilemmas in research, teaching and service. It is based on the substantive posts that Lorraine Eden, Kathy Lund Dean and Paul M. Vaaler wrote for the Academy of Management's The Ethicist Blog. In the authors' own words in a post about the book on that blog:

We realized that our years of working and writing blog posts together had created a synergy when read together, providing a conceptual flow that we believed could move to book form. We also believed that a book on ethics in academia would fill a hole in the available resources to doctoral students and young faculty members on how to navigate the tricky waters of a successful academic career. So we selected the best and most useful of our blog posts, rewrote, and updated them as book chapters to reflect the most recent thinking (as of October 2017) on each topic. We also added new chapters to the book to fill missing holes on key topic areas.

The key theme in the book is that academic career paths appear to be quite standard and transparent. However, we argue that there are many ethical pitfalls along the academic life cycle in all three of the metrics by which we are judged: research, teaching and service. The ethical dilemmas that can plague each of the steps along the academic career path are often not visible, are generally not discussed with or by the thousands of faculty in the Academy, and are generally not addressed with training on how to spot and handle these ethical issues.

A short an informal book review

I eagerly took the opportunity to have a look and the book and really liked what I saw. Each and every chapter provided me with fresh insights, communicated in a very accessible and personal style. There is one aspect of the book's framing and promotional material I do not agree with though! The book is primarily targeted at doctoral students and junior academics. Whereas no doubt these groups will benefit hugely from reading this book, in my opinion many of the ethical dilemmas presented are equally relevant for mid-career and even senior academics. In fact, most of these dilemmas take on additional layers of subtlety after gaining more academic experience.

To me, it is clearly a book that invites regular re-reading at different stages of one's career. Whereas the issues discussed in the comprehensive section on research ethics by Lorraine Eden might well be common knowledge for most established academics, it can't hurt to get a reminder occasionally. The section on ethics in teaching is useful for novices, but will make much more sense after several years of teaching experience. Kathy Lund Dean does a great job in openly sharing the dilemmas in her own development as a teacher, showing us how even after 20 years of teaching we can still benefit from conscious reflection on our teaching practices. However, the part that was most useful to me at my current stage of career was Paul Vaaler's section on ethics in service activities, covering topics such as conflicts of interest, tribalism, behaviour at professional meetings, peer reviewing and editorial work, recruitment and providing job offers, outside appointments. It was reassuring to see I am not the only one asking myself questions on these topics.

Finally, although the book is well-suited for self-study, it acquires an additional layer when used in doctoral training, ethics seminars, consortia and workshops, where it can be used as a stepping stone for interactive discussions on the various dilemmas. In the research section, the book explicitly accommodates this by providing 20 ethical research dilemmas, short case studies that outline a particular ethical issue. However, each of the (former) blogposts invites explicit reflection, so this the book provides a very rich source of material to draw on for any topic related to ethics in academia. In short: highly recommended!

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