Week 11: Disciplinary Codes of Conduct

Before I could consider my discipline’s code(s) of conduct, I first had to think about exactly what my discipline would be in this context. I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Rhetoric and Writing program, but those labels didn’t seem quite right. So, I thought a little broader. We are housed within the English Department, and my master’s degree was in English. This seemed closer, so I followed that line of thought in my search. I settled on three codes that I think should all help inform my practice: the National Council of Teachers of English Code of Conduct, the American Association of University Professor’s Statement on Professional Ethics, and the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland’s Humanist Ethical Code.

What Surprised Me & What Would I Change?

First, the NCTE code that I found was specifically for their online community. Since this document was more for practical purposes, it was much more focused on rules than for theoretical or conceptual guidelines. Looking around their site more, I found more specific conversation about the ethical imperatives with respect to human subjects research or student work; however, I thought it would be easier to find a more general statement of ethical guidance.

Next, in looking at the AAUP’s statement concerning ethics, I found that the organization is much more concerned with the broader issues, allowing individual university campuses to be the ones to make the more restrictive rules. Their statement presents the theory they think professors should live by in relation to their students, research, and the broader community. This complete switch from the NCTE code was interesting and allowed for the discussion of more lofty goals.

Finally, I can’t say that it surprised me that the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland’s code is so high-minded; however, what did surprise me is how thorough the descriptions are. Also, despite their well-intentioned and idealistic code, they also state that they “do not believe in dictating morals to one another” and state that “Not all Humanists will agree with ALL the sentiments expressed in [their code],” explaining “we value, above all, free thought and tolerance.” These guidelines are certainly not limited to teaching or researching within the humanities, but some ethical goals–such as thinking for yourself and being “skeptical yet open minded”– align nicely with the principles we have been discussing this semester in our contexts as graduate students and researchers.

Considering changes that I might want to see to these codes is difficult because they are so different from one another and not directly analogous to the code of ethics for a (more) easily defined group like engineers. However, I can focus somewhat on a gap I see in the AAUP statement. The statement is supposed to provide “guidance to professors in such matters as their utterances as citizens, the exercise of their responsibilities to students and colleagues, and their conduct when resigning from an institution or when undertaking sponsored research.” Though this list includes the “citizen” role and goes on to describe those responsibilities in more detail, it does not directly implicate professors with a responsibility to provide service. While being a good, productive, helpful citizen-scholar is a wonderful goal, the professor’s position is a privileged one, and I think it is part of the ethical imperative that they (future-we) “give back” outside of our directly academic pursuits.

 What Does the Discipline Value?

Though these examples of codes are very different, I would say that they all speak to some basic values: respect, knowledge, and honesty. First, each encompasses that ask their community to respond to others in a cordial way and show respect for the space around them. The humanist code is more explicit about respecting values, life, and nature while the NTCE code and the AAUP statement more so center on collegiality. Second, these groups concern themselves with valuing and sharing knowledge of various kinds and encouraging the pursuit of learning. Of course, I have seen both of these parallels clearly in my experience of being a teacher and graduate student in my field so far. The third value that I wanted to discuss is honesty. In the AAUP’s statement, ethics is addressed explicitly. In the other codes, there is more focus on honesty and its importance as one acts as part of a community.

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