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Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching

By John M. Braxton and Alan E. Bayer
Johns Hopkins University Press
240 Pages
1999
ISBN: 0-8018-7096-8 (paperback)
$17.95

Reviewed by

J. Cynthia McDermott

Department of Education

CSU Dominguez Hills


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In Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching, John Braxton and Alan Bayer explore a difficult and controversial topic: ethical behavior in the academy. This book asks us, as the professoriate, to look at our conduct and determine if we like what we see. Braxton and Bayer are working from several fundamental questions: What is ethical behavior? Do faculty generally behave ethically--and how do we know? Do faculty have norms that govern their behaviors and would they all agree? Is it correct to assume that they are monitoring themselves?

According to the authors, professorial impropriety generally falls within one of four domains: (1) scholarly or scientific misconduct (e.g. plagiarism, fabrication of laboratory data); (2) academic or teaching misconduct (e.g. habitual failure to meet classes, public ridicule of students); (3) professional service misconduct (e.g. failure to meet commitments at professional meetings, failure to fulfill responsibilities of committee assignments); and (4) employee misconduct (e.g. embezzlement of institutional funds, theft of property). They argue that "most institutions have formal rules governing scholarly and research misconduct. . . . [G]iven that the primary activity of most college and university faculty members is teaching, it is all the more remarkable that [this] domain of possible impropriety has been relatively neglected" (p. 6-7).

The authors first looked at the definitions of norms from professional groups including the American Association of University Professors. They then began their research by asking five questions: (a) What inviolable patterns of behavior comprise the normative structure of undergraduate teaching? (b) What admonitory patterns comprise teaching? (c) Are such norms similar across institutions, and are there any core norms? (d) Are there any core norms in four academic areas (math, psychology, biology and history)? (e) Do individual faculty characteristics affect these norms?

Braxton and Bayer collected lists of expected behaviors from faculty members. From these lists, they created the College Teaching Behaviors Inventory (which is included in the Appendix). The authors then developed three faculty surveys, focusing on undergraduate teaching and on faculty in biology, mathematics, psychology and history. From survey responses, they identified seven patterns of inviolable proscribed behavior and nine admonitory norms.

The authors suggest that some behaviors that violate the "inviolable," if demonstrated by a faculty member, require "severe sanctions" (p. 41). These include condescending negativism, inattentive planning, moral turpitude, egregious use of authority (which includes having a sexual relationship with a student, making suggestive sexual comments to a student, or attending class while intoxicated), particularistic grading, personal disregard, uncommunicated course details, and uncooperative cynicism. The authors clearly state that such behavior on the part of a faculty member ignores the basic principle that we each need to have respect for individuals (each other and students). The text does an excellent job of presenting each of these behaviors through the use of specific cases.

The second set of behaviors, or admonitory norms, "elicit indignation when violated, although less so than inviolable norms" (p. 67). Violations that, according to survey participants, should be corrected include negligence with teaching, advising, course design, communication, and other instructional responsibilities, as well as being secretive about teaching, undermining colleagues, and exhibiting other uncooperative behaviors.

Braxton and Bayer conclude with a critique of their work. Because they found that faculty in different disciplines and at different types of institutions value different behaviors, they propose that more areas be studied, including the applied fields. They also suggest that faculty attitudes toward undergraduate students might differ from attitudes toward graduate students and propose that these populations also be included as part of another study. Another limitation is that differences between faculty members, such as ethnicity, may affect norms and responses.

They list several implications for policy and practice and suggest that incidents of teaching misconduct be gathered and noted by universities, that a code of teaching conduct be developed, that colleges conduct audits of normative proscriptions within departments, that campus committees be established to oversee reported incidents, that sanctions for misconduct be formulated, that faculty be rewarded for their teaching integrity, that collective bargaining agreements include such suggestions (as above), and that campus policy documents give more attention to teaching integrity. The authors argue that attention to this issue, and to the articulation of norms, will provide students with the assurance that the professoriate takes teaching conduct, and misconduct, seriously.

The text provides an excellent starting point for campus-based discussions of ethics and misconduct in faculty work. The authors recommend "greater attention to and formalization of teaching norms" (p. 184) in order to provide recognition to those who uphold high standards and to encourage others to rise to those levels of behavior. Such dialogue may do more to provide the kind of attention that the authors seek without the need to be prescriptive.

Posted July 1, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2002 by Cynthia McDermott.

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