All posts by Emma Young

Hidden Curricula

Hidden Curricula

On February 10th, three instructors from the Medical Sciences Program at Indiana University Bloomington presented a panel on the role of medical education in shaping students into physicians. Mark Bauman, MD, Doug Carr, MD, and Sarah Tieman, MD, encouraged the audience, which included several students interested in pursuing medical education, to share their ideas about what forces help shape the kind of doctor a person becomes.

The list included: core motivations (which vary person to person), relationships with faculty and mentors (preclinical and clinical), formative interactions with patients, financial pressures (tuition & debt), educational standards and metrics, and “pre-formation” or the values and abilities that medical students arrive with from their upbringing and primary education. Bauman opined that as much as nurturing key relationships and experiences as well as knowledge is essential, the core values and motives that students arrive with are most often persistent – what you learned in kindergarten really does make a big difference to who you become later.

Of particular interest for contemplating the future of professional ethics was the discussion of the formal curriculum (knowledge & competencies), and the hidden curriculum (workplace culture and the incentive structure of the for-profit health care system).

Stats in our last blog post showed that fewer than 60% of professionals surveyed across three sectors report an “ethical or strong ethical-leaning” workplace culture. What might the results be for health care system employees? Regardless, even in an ethically congenial working environment, the gap between education and practice demands careful moral reasoning.

The problem of deciding just how much contextual knowledge a newcomer needs to take meaningful – and ethically well-advised – initiatives seems like one that could apply to many professions beyond medicine. On the one hand, newcomers to a workplace can cause unintended harm when they try to assert their ideas before they get to know the local context in real depth – how do you gauge the amount of knowledge you need to fulfill good intentions in an unfamiliar context? On the other hand, for young professionals aware that they may be entering workplaces whose ethical culture needs continued improvement, how do you avoid uncritically assimilating to local norms that really should change?

Tieman pointed out that when students cycle through short-term internships, they often don’t have time to develop the level of either detailed knowledge or investment to try to be problem-solvers – and may walk away without much insight into the struggles of their colleagues and patients. She argued that a benefit of the longer concurrent rotations that IU School of Medicine is now testing out might be that young professionals have enough time to build relationships with patients, to comprehend and evaluate the big picture of how a unit works, and thus to make thoughtful decisions about where to invest their time and energy.

Certainly, the robust culture of reflection discussed at our third #FutureEthics Workshop at IUB would serve to help young professionals be mindful of the gap between their training in a formal curriculum and the informal but extremely powerful hidden curriculum of their profession.

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Workshop Review: Developing and Defending Your Ethical Professional Brand

The third in the Indiana University Bloomington Future of Professional Ethics Workshop Series took place on January 29th, 2016, hosted by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Keynote speaker Trish Tchume explored the question, “How do you walk through the world of work with integrity?” She opened by sharing a conversation she had with a friend about the stress of ethical concerns on the job. Allow me to paraphrase the striking conversation she reported: “You know how you have this sense of a fence in the distance between you and behaving unethically. And most people, they get more and more cautious as they approach that fence. But certain co-workers just go running at it full tilt. They might always stop short, but you hate to work with them because you feel like you’re being dragged along in their mad dash toward the boundaries of what’s right.”

Tchume went on to outline some great ways to make this metaphor more specific and practical:

What makes up the ethical fence? For the nonprofit sector, it is ultimately the IRS tax code and the definition of a nonprofit as an organization that acts “for the benefit of the general public…without a profit motive.”

What’s testing the ethical fence? Tchume cited several things that shape the environment new grads will go into. One is a characteristic of the workforce: widespread sector-agnosticism, meaning many graduates are willing to consider working in nonprofit, for-profit, or government sectors, they are more focused on results than dedicated to a specific way of getting them. However, these sectors all have different legal and ethical fences. They also expose young professionals to vastly different potential payscales and raise the question of how much – or how little – compensation professionals will expect. Finally, the traditional nonprofit worker finds herself in a competitive funding environment that can pit organizations against each other on the one hand, and on the other hand part of a general social trend toward efficiencies of scale and a focus on metrics, which push all organizations to define success in more business-like terms. Tchume pointed to the recent controversy over the Wounded Warrior project as a case study in some of the tensions involved in scaling organizations up.

Finally, Tchume urged listeners to ask “What slows me down as I run screeching toward the fence?” She advocated for the importance of creating reflective time and space to work this deeply. She shared a graphic(1) originally published by Robert Nash that illustrates the several levels of reflection: listening to your own feelings and intuitions to make sure your job is staying in alignment with your personal brand of ethics, considering the ethical culture of your organization and the specific duties of your role, expanding that reflection to the context of the community your organization works in, and finally thinking most broadly about the story you want your life, your career to tell. During Q&A, she suggested that this multi-level can be a way to grapple with issues like staff investment and retention – by seeing yourself and your colleagues as part of a story that includes but also transcends your current organization.

Panelists Jill Long Thompson and Beth Gazely seconded the keynote’s focus on the vital importance of regular reflection, emphasizing that although most people in government and nonprofits want to do good, it’s a mistake to think that ethics just comes naturally – rather, like building muscles, it takes practice. They agreed that reflective space and conversation is vital to build emotional intelligence, develop those ethical muscles, and to contribute to workplace culture. In concert, the speakers made a compelling case that building space for ethical reflection is imperative for professionals, as individuals, as colleagues, as managers, as friends, and as mentors.

This imperative is all the more urgent in light of survey results Tchume shared early in her talk from “58% of nonprofit employees surveyed report a strong or strong-leaning ethics culture in their workplace; 52% in business; and 50% in government.” These numbers drive home the point that young professionals can’t expect the right decisions to always be obvious.


(1)Graphic- Spaces for Developing Your Professional Ethical Brand

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Mapping the “New Professionalism”

On January 21st, Associate Professor of Sociology Timothy Hallett gave a Poynter Roundtable presentation on his work-in-progress with Matthew Gougherty, an in-depth study of a “Masters of Public Affairs” program. The project was originally inspired by an interest in the explosion of “accountability” logics across sectors; one research question being how educational programs might be functioning as incubators of this phenomenon. In the course of gathering extensive data on a cohort of MPA students and their faculty, the researchers found the concept of “professionalism” coming up repeatedly – yet not in a way that fits the dominant sociological definitions. What can this study tell us about the meaning of “professionalism” today?

One theoretical approach to defining a profession is functionalism. On a functionalist account, a profession is distinguished by having a recognized civic role, entailing that its members define themselves by a role-specific code of ethics and exercise a high degree of autonomy, both in applying their skills to meet public needs and in regulating themselves as a group. As a result of public trust and responsibility, they enjoy high social status. This view aligns with the self-understanding of fields such as law, medicine, the clergy, and engineering, the classic professions.

An approach based in a theory of power will emphasize the opposite side of the coin, arguing that professions emerge when members establish monopolies: through licensure and internal policing mechanisms like professional associations, the classic professions control access to a field of practice. This view might lend itself to more cynical or critical arguments, attributing high social status to successful power management rather than to social service — but like functionalism it is best tailored to explain the classic professions.

The MPA degree doesn’t seem to lead to anything that fits either of these definitions of “professional.” Graduates don’t expect to exercise the autonomy of judgment that functionalism predicts, instead being trained in the logic of “accountability,” which trends in the opposite direction. And degree holders don’t have a jurisdictional monopoly of power; there is no analogue to the American Medical Association. And social status is contingent on a variety of factors beyond the control of the degree program: the term “MPA” itself does not, as yet, have much of a vernacular status value.

Yet faculty and students in the program alike are deeply concerned with “becoming more professional,” “acting professional,” etc. Of course, as pointed out in the Roundtable discussion, these terms can have a vernacular meaning that points to working in an office or following a certain dress code, in opposition to working in the service industry or other explicitly low-status jobs. However, the class background of students in the program suggests that the majority of students would be destined for some type of suit-and-tie or business-casual employment no matter what. So their interest in the MPA is not primarily about accessing middle-class status in the first place, but implies a more particular set of concerns to which the new meanings of “professionalism” (as well as “mission” and other signifiers) provide some kind of answer. The current phase of the project is exploring what light newer theoretical approaches may shed on these emergent meanings.

Many aspects of this outline ring true for other emerging fields, degrees, and job types – there is a clear need for new theory to really explain how today’s college graduates are sorting themselves out in the contemporary social order. We look forward with interest to Hallett and Gougherty’s conclusions, as they promise to prove relevant not only to understanding MPA programs and the proliferation of accountability logic, but also to contribute to our understanding of 21st-century professionalism more broadly.

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A Professional Life: A Question of Stages?

Emma Arrington Stone Young

A Professional Life in Stages

On September 15, 2015, Joseph Coleman spoke at the Poynter Center about his new book, Unfinished Work: The Struggle to Build an Aging American Workforce. Through personal interviews with dozens of subjects in the USA, Netherlands, France, and Japan, Coleman explores how these individuals and their nations are handling the world-wide boom in older workers.

Of the many interesting topics that arise – the long-lasting effects of the Great Recession, employer strategies, worker motivations, and who’s ultimately responsible for what – one that especially caught my attention was the notion that we might want to be thinking about professional working life as a series of stages rather than a single stage preceded by education and followed by retirement. Sweden has been relatively successful at creating social programs that re-train and re-employ middle-aged and older workers in new sectors after layoffs, Coleman says, suggesting that there might be benefits if industry and government more deliberately plan for workers to phase out of one industry and in to another.

It’s easy to think of benefits: At the individual level, workers may have new capacities to offer after children are raised, or may find more personal fulfillment in having more than one career. But it could work for industry too: Mid-life transitions from more to less physically demanding jobs might improve the overall health of the labor pool, and workers might bring more value as a fresh perspective in a new sector than by continually updating their training in the same sector. And in the broadest perspective, strategic programs to offer older workers the chance to renew themselves with a beneficial career change could, when needed, open up jobs for young workers (as when there is an over-supply of recent college graduates) and develop economic opportunities based on the unique strengths of older workers.

Of course, the notion of working life as a single stage between education and retirement only applies to certain relatively high-status occupations in the first place – professions and “skilled” trades. It has long been relatively easy to make career changes among certain kinds of occupation: it would startle no one to hear of a single career that included stints in law, politics, business, and academia. It isn’t clear whether transitions between “professional” and “non-professional” jobs could be as easily accomplished. In the US at least, access to professional careers and their accompanying class status is most often determined before the age of thirty, and in general the high cost of licensure and the pressures of class status maintenance are potential roadblocks.

On the other hand, workers in midlife may in some ways be the ideal candidates to take on the complex moral reasoning involved in professional life, as well as the pragmatic hurdles of advanced degree programs, even if their first career was not considered professional. Several decades of cultural pressure to professionalize young has produced an enormous problem: a glut of young workers with advanced degrees, few opportunities, and little experience. So a thoughtful shift toward encouraging more workers to consider professional careers after gaining life experience in jobs considered blue, white, or pink collar, or years of working in the home, might actually have some far-reaching effects: At a large enough scale, it would certainly change the demographics of degree programs and alter the stock narrative of status attainment. And it might create a new kind of professional. It’s certainly a provocative notion.


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Why Do We Care about What Who Wants? Not-so-Mundane Challenges to Being a Value-Bearing Organization

Emma Arrington Stone Young

A very striking contradiction came to light during the panel discussion following Steve Salbu’s[1] keynote for the first IU Bloomington Future of Professional Ethics workshop hosted at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University on September 25.

At the national level, perceived student demand has driven a shift in emphasis away from the liberal arts and toward “professional” schools, even at traditionally liberal arts colleges. As noted by Salbu, in his experience as a Dean, students are increasingly taking an instrumental view of higher education as they seek high-paying and high-status jobs. However, during the panel discussion it came out that college career placement services have been hearing pushback from employers in law, media, and informatics: These employers often want to see graduates with stronger critical thinking and communication skills – in other words, with a stronger liberal arts education.

This seems to paint a picture in which drivers, incentives, and outcomes have become mismatched: students are interested in appealing to high-status employers, and these student/parent desires are evidently driving higher education policies — yet employers are less than satisfied with the results, and recent graduates are less than satisfied with their financial prospects. Meanwhile, within the academy, faculty are concerned about mission drift — and academic careers have become exemplars of the kind of life path that doesn’t pay for its own University-charged entry cost. Being an institution dedicated to values above and beyond its own self-preservation, whether it be university, a newspaper, or a political party, naturally involves debate over what the precise values are. But in the picture painted above, no coherent vision of the value of education is getting its way. So what is driving higher ed policy?

Responding to the keynote’s emphasis on shifting values in higher education, panelist Tim Hallett[2] brought up the spread of Enrollment Management programs (EM) in colleges and universities. This bureaucratic innovation links Admissions and Financial Aid departments, with the result that financial aid is used as a tool to recruit target populations of students. Hallett cited a study of the growth of EM by Kraatz, Ventresca, and Deng 2010*, which offers several criticisms of the phenomenon:

Studies have shown that “strategic” financial aid policies strongly favor middle-class students with a greater ability to pay, thereby undermining equal access to higher education (Baum & Lapovsky, 2006; Davis, 2003). They have also shown that rapidly growing enrollment management expenditures have consumed a growing percentage of colleges’ budgets and diverted scarce institutional resources away from core academic areas such as instruction and academic support (Goral, 2003; Redd, 2000).

Kraatz et al. ultimately argue that organizational values can be quietly subverted as organizations “adopt new and ostensibly innocuous innovations that promise to solve their technical and administrative problems.” The problems with EM provide one example.

It is not difficult to see how this account could be applied to the problems raised in our workshop as well. While the proper organizational values of higher education are, I think, inherently contestable, in the discussions of many higher education policies, the questions being asked are part of a different conversation altogether: What do our consumers (primarily high school students and current undergraduates) see when they look at our PR? And what do they see when they look at our competitors (other colleges)?

This type of framing radically narrows the focus, and pushes any consideration of graduate futures, community or social needs, employer interests, or academic integrity to the margins — except insofar as they impact the newly central questions of how to appeal to test-savvy students. It places a premium on the judgments of a relatively naïve consumer. The practice of certain law schools, which overall have shown very low employment rates for graduates over the past several years, of padding their employment stats in the college rankings used for recruitment, is one example cited by Salbu. This type of administrative decision can only make sense in a very narrow decision-making framework focused on getting students in the door. How it could ever make good ethical sense is difficult to imagine at all.

Kraatz et al. are concerned to find out what makes an organization more or less susceptible to such mission drift and value subversion. Their questions thus offer a perfect segue from the issues explored in the first IU Bloomington #FutureEthics workshop to the issues shaping the next: Committed Professions: Handling Structural Obstacles to Ethics {outlink}.


[1] Cecil B. Day Chair, Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia Institute of Technology

[2] Associate Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Sociology, Indiana University Bloomington,

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