Monthly Archives: August 2015

Higher education’s responsibility to young professionals-to-be

What do lawyers and scientists have in common? There are probably several answers, but the one on my mind is that there are too many of both, and universities are responsible.

Most of my work in professional ethics concerns science, research ethics, and the responsible conduct of research. I’ve read for years (most recently in June 2014) that there are more science graduates in the United States than available jobs. Some people say this is bad, some others think it’s a good thing, and some think it just isn’t true.

A short while ago I learned that law students are in a similar situation; a very recent piece in the New York Times (“Too many law students, too few legal jobs,” August 25, 2015) says the same about law schools. Of the many interesting tidbits offered by the author, Steven J. Harper, I’ll only quote two:

Students now amass law school loans averaging $127,000 for private schools and $88,000 for public ones. …

… 25 percent of law schools obtain at least 88 percent of their total revenues from tuition. The average for all law schools is 69 percent. So law schools have a powerful incentive to maintain or increase enrollment, even if the employment outcomes are dismal for their graduates, especially at marginal schools.

 An argument could be made that law students are responsible for their own choices – caveat emptor – and that an over-supply of lawyers is good because market forces will ensure that the best will be hired or establish their own practices and the worst will not. Tough for them, but good for the rest of us.

Now, I’m content to allow market forces to monkey around with commodities like clothing, automobiles, telephones, gardening tools, and so forth, but people? No.

Some years ago, someone (can’t remember who) opined that graduate schools should cover tuition, fees, books, housing, and a salary for every graduate student. This seems reasonable to me. If there are still too many lawyers, at least the graduates will have no or little debt and they’ll have a law degree, which isn’t nothing.

I think this is an ethical issue. Do you?

Ken Pimple
August 31, 2015
7:45pm EDT

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Intense workplace culture

The workshops on the future of professional ethics that I am organizing this academic year include these three (still in process):

1. Professions and professionals in society: Service first, money second
Professions and other occupations exist because they serve human needs. The degree to which professions strive to meet vital needs vary across professions, within professions and organizations, and across time. There can be no doubt that in the United States today, many vital needs are not met, often because providing those needs is not profitable. Providing pro bono services and taking up specialties that serve underprivileged people or underpopulated areas are not practical for many young professionals who are burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. What mechanisms could be created or rehabilitated to fill the niches of need that are currently underserved by professions? How can we identify and overcome stumbling blocks, including those laid down by government, culture, universities, and other powerful forces?

2. Committed professions: Recognizing and overcoming obstacles to service
How can professional corporations, businesses, and organizations uphold the ethical principles that guide their work when regulations and laws, de facto professional norms, or behaviors and beliefs of society at large undermine key ethical responsibilities? What options and obligations do they have to reform ethically dysfunctional forces? What role can individual professionals play in reformation?

3. Navigating professional careers: Challenges in a shifting economy
Young professionals can expect to acquire continually new knowledge and skills, move often between organizations, and acculturate quickly to various professional environments (e.g., the public, private, and non-profit sectors). They will be under pressure to develop a “personal brand” and to map their own career trajectory. How can educators prepare them for logistical challenges as well as the ethical challenges they will meet?

A good deal of professional ethics concentrates on workplace behavior: Do you accept bribes? Do you ignore or break laws or regulations? Does your boss order you to cheat in one way or another? And so on.

The workshops described above are different; they are not so much behavioral as environmental or structure. One might ask, “What is it like to work at Amazon, why does it matter, and can the culture be considered unethical?” If the New York Times piece, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld (August 15, 2015) is more-or-less accurate, I would have to say that there is an ethical problem here. But what is it, exactly?

It might have something to do with inhumane work conditions, but the ready response is that the employees are not slaves; they don’t have to work in those conditions. They are free to leave.

Quitting, of course, means looking for another job, hoping that better, or at least less damaging, jobs are available, and hoping the tattered social safety net isn’t too weak. I’d call this an issue of social justice, which is an ethical issue.

There might also be an ingredient of ignorance, as Dustin Moskovitz argues in his post, “Work Hard, Live Well

The research is clear: beyond ~40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative.

Sometimes hard work conditions cannot be avoided, but harming employees is bad, and doing it based on a false premise that the hard conditions are productive seems cruel, stupid, and unethical. Professionals sometimes have to harm people – as when a surgeon cuts into a patient – but ethically they do it only when doing so is expected to have a net positive effect.

Ken Pimple
August 23, 2015
6:30 pm EDT

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What can professional associations do?

The basic questions guiding the Future of Practical and Professional Ethics project are:

  1. What ethical challenges do professionals currently face?
  2. What ethical challenges do you anticipate professionals will face in the 21st Century?
  3. How can a professional association, such as APPE, help address these challenges through research and teaching?

Sadly, we are observing how the American Psychological Association tries to answer question 3. The APA is facing a failure of ethics on the part of some of its members – indeed, some of its leaders – and the Chronicle of Higher Education published online today a snapshot of how APA members are responding to the situation.

I welcome comments on this page sharing your observations, opinions, advice – anything about your reaction. I would particularly appreciate your thoughts about how other associations have dealt with, or have planned to deal with, serious unethical behavior.

The comment box is meant for short remarks; if you have more to say, please get in touch with me and we’ll work out a way for your thoughts to appear on this site.

Ken Pimple
August 10, 2015
11:45 am EDT

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An Invitation to Participate

This post is adapted from an invitation by Stuart D. Yoak, Ph.D., APPE Executive Director. The source document can be found in PDF format in Compendium > APPE – Ken

A Year of Conversation on the Future of Practical and Professional Ethics

The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics 25th Anniversary in 2016

On this page: What will the next 25 years bring?Suggested guidelines for workshop organizers

In February of 2015, at the Association’s International Conference in Costa Mesa, California, the Executive Board announced plans for “A Year of Conversation on the Future of Practical and Professional Ethics.” In 1991, when the APPE was founded, the work of scholars, educators, and professionals in many disciplines of practical ethics and professional ethics were beginning to emerge. Ethics Centers at colleges and universities were actively engaged in study and research on issues of practical ethics and professional ethics. Businesses and government agencies responded to fraud and misconduct cases by requiring ethics training for employees and grant recipients.

The work in practical ethics and professional ethics over the past 24 years has grown and matured significantly. Academic institutions have chairs and center directors in practical and professional ethics. Businesses, large and small, have ongoing ethics training programs led by skilled corporate ethics officers. Professional associations have developed and expanded ethical codes and enforcement measures to increase public confidence in licensed specialists. And, state and federal governments have created ethics agencies and commissions to set standards of conduct for civil servants at all levels.

What will the next 25 years bring?

During 2015-2016, the Association is launching a series of conversations, seminars and workshops to discuss the development of practical and professional ethics and explore future challenges and opportunities. The Association invites members and friends to host these conversations at academic institutions, businesses, professional societies, conferences, government agencies and in community forums, with the aim of contributing to a collection of information that can help shape future educational and professional development.

Please see the following suggested guidelines for organizing a single event or a series of conversations. Sample topics and questions for consideration are also available from the Association. The results will be compiled and shared at the 25th Anniversary Conference of the Association in Washington, D.C. Thursday, February 18 through Sunday, February 21, 2016.

Suggested Guidelines for Workshop Organizers

Participating institutions are encouraged to host one or more workshops addressing the general topic of the “Future of Practical and Professional Ethics.” Workshops may target individual or multidisciplinary subject areas (business, engineering, law, medicine, etc.) or examine topics common to many professions (conflicts of interest, privacy, deception, confidentiality, etc.). The goal is to identify emerging challenges in practical ethics and address these challenges through advanced education, research and leadership in professional associations.

Basic Questions

  • What ethical challenges do professionals currently face?
  • What ethical challenges do you anticipate professionals will face in the 21st Century?
  • How can a professional association, such as APPE, help address these challenges through research and teaching?

Sample Format

  1. Invite a speaker to lead-off the workshop discussion on a challenging ethical issue currently facing professionals.
  2. Invite two or three panelists representing different professions, subject areas or perspectives to comment and expand on the speaker’s points.
  3. Follow with open discussion among workshop participants of what the professions and professionals need when encountering new ethical challenges? And, how might the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics address these needs?

Initial Outcome

Workshop organizers are asked to send a description of the workshop and a summary of key findings, unanswered questions, and recommendations that emerged from the conversation to Kenneth D. Pimple, Ph.D., Coordinator for the APPE Year of Conversation, Results from this national and international conversation will be compiled and shared with those attending the 25th Anniversary Conference of the Association in Washington, D.C., Thursday, February 18 through Sunday, February 21, 2016. An executive summary and the complete findings from all workshops will be available on the Association’s website.

Building on the Results

  • The Association will facilitate the collaboration of one or many written manuscripts (e.g., a white paper, journal article, a special edition of a journal, or book) and encourage participants, individually or in groups, to generate their own documents. We hope that most or all of these manuscripts will be made widely available at no cost for users.
  • The results generated through this Year of Conversations may inform the ongoing advancement of ethics education at academic institutions, businesses, government agencies and professional organizations.
  • Participating institutions may develop new connections at their own and participating institutions that enhance the quality of their programs.

Stuart D. Yoak
August 5, 2015
4:00 pm EDT

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