University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
Contact UD at: margaret-dot-soltan-at-gmail-dot-com

Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED

UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gandhian Ethics

It's rare that UD feels a sense of comradery with her fellow American university professors. It's rare that UD feels a sense of comradery, period.

But, as with the wonderful Southern Illinois professors who refused en masse to attend a moronic motivational talk that administrators at their university rigged up for them, so now with the Berkeley professors refusing to take a required online ethics quiz, UD says: COMRADE!

From an article by Matt Krupnick, in the Contra Costa Times:

Fewer than half of UC Berkeley faculty members and other employees have completed a required ethics course that some professors say is irrelevant. [Rebellion against corporate stupidity is good for the soul.]

All 160,000 University of California employees were told last year to complete the online course after the institution was stung by newspaper accounts of a series of administrative missteps. [Professors didn't do anything wrong. They shouldn't be punished by having to take the same kindergarten-level ethics test that the administrators -- who need it -- have to take.] Most managers, deans and other administrators statewide completed the training by January, but most UC Berkeley professors and other employees have not.

Berkeley employees must finish the course by Friday, but less than 40 percent of the faculty and about 44 percent of the remaining staff had completed the training by last week, administrators said. [These are great numbers. Non-violent protest is among the most ethical of acts.] It was not clear how the Berkeley numbers compared to other campuses.

UC Berkeley faculty and administrative leaders said they had received several complaints about the ethics course. Journalism professor Susan Rasky said she finished about two-thirds of the training before giving up.

"If they really cared about this, they wouldn't be doing it this way," she said. "It just seems so Mickey Mouse, so simple-minded." [A lot of people aren't insulted by in-the-pits stupidity. Professors, as a class, really are. More than insulted. A lot of them can't tolerate certain levels of the inane. I'm not kidding when I say that some of these professors physically cannot finish this test. I think these people should ask their universities for special accommodation, as some of their students do, because it is so difficult -- to the point of near-impossibility -- for them to take this test. I'm not saying that they absolutely positively cannot take it -- I'm saying that while it might take stupidity-non-aversives, say, a half hour to take the test, it will take stupidity-aversives perhaps weeks to summon the strength to take the test.]

The 15- to 30-minute course takes employees through a series of scenarios in which a business manager named Edna must decide how to respond to ethics questions. [Edna.]

"In each of the following scenarios, do your best to help Edna choose the path toward ethical fitness," the program tells users. [Help Edna reach ethical fitness.]

For example, Edna must decide how to address an employee, Thuvan, who appears to be using her position to gain perks at luxury hotels. Another employee spends too much time fixing his old cars, and a department manager is spending university money on alcohol.

University leaders could not say what they would do -- if anything -- about employees who declined to finish the course. Although the test is mandatory, punishments have not been discussed, said Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for the 10-campus UC system. [I'm trying to think of a punishment for faculty worse than reading the ethics exam.]

"Completing the training is a priority, and it will be enforced if need be," he said. "We're hoping we don't have to police this." [Help Paul become a policeman.]

Richard Blum, the board's chairman, was not prepared Wednesday to say how the university should react.

"I'll have to see what the attorneys say and what our options are," he said. "I don't know anything about it." [Help Richard threaten faculty with the legal staff.]

The regents are scheduled to discuss the issue today and have the ultimate responsibility for regulating the policy.

Without a directive from systemwide leaders, campus administrators can do little else than remind employees about their responsibilities, said Berkeley's chief academic officer, Provost George Breslauer, who completed the ethics course in November. The training has little relevance to a professor's job, he said.

"They're galled, and I can understand that gall," Breslauer said. "The vast majority of people here, especially the faculty, probably cannot relate to the situations in the briefing. I didn't feel galled, but I did feel cynical." [Bravo, George. Honesty.]

Opposition to the quiz on other campuses did not appear to be widespread. At UC San Diego, faculty leaders said they had not received the same flood of complaints as had their Berkeley counterparts.

"A number of people have questioned it, but it hasn't been as burdensome as some online training in the past," said Henry Powell, a UC San Diego neuroscience professor who leads the campus Academic Senate. "These trainings are very valuable because they bring out certain issues." [Help Henry break free of his Me A Good Boy problem.]

Online courses have become common tools for university leaders. State law required all employees to take a sexual-harassment quiz -- which penalized employees who finished it too quickly [Premature ejaculation.] -- and UC officials this week launched conflict-of-interest training for all researchers.

For many employees, the courses are too time-consuming and repeat rules that people already understand, Rasky said.

"This was like a quiz you take when you go to traffic school and the answers are obvious," she said.

Still, she said, "I certainly hope I don't end up on someone's bad faculty list."