Is the current system in higher education unethical? What happens when rewards don’t align with the “Right Thing” to do?

We’ve talked about ethics throughout my graduate course and I want to continue that discussion in the context of higher education. We spent a good part of a course discussing rewards systems and the importance of developing good structures to produce desirable behaviors and outcomes. Unfortunately, we have two competing issues. What do we do when the: 1) the “right thing”, and 2) the “rewarded” thing are not compatible?


What’s generally rewarded in higher education?

  1. Research over teaching (see science article).

  2. Research productivity, measured by short-term outcomes (e.g., low quality, high quantity pubs in lieu of high quality and low quantity publications) [see Chronicle]

  3. Siloed approaches – in discipline journals, conferences, and grants (see Inside HigherEd)

What if we rewarded?

  1. Teaching and research.

  2. Quality of publications.

  3. Collaborative efforts.

In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink discusses the need for design, stories, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Although we say we promote these ideal in higher education, we couldn’t be farther from it. Our publication process, tenure-track process, and funding sources contribute to a self-serving utility and functional perspective rather than a collaborative vision to help others. Stories are viewed as “less” than quantitative figures and the scientific method, as if to suggest we cannot learn from an inductive process. How often do we see the big picture? Almost never. I want to ask every faculty member, why do you do what you do? Where does this get us now? I think we’ve lost a sense of who we serve and why our research can’t stop in a journal. It should be fun. We get to learn and help others every day. Our work should have the most meaning.


Consider: Should we ask graduate students and faculty to go against the grain – to give up the immediate gains of promotion and fitting into the system in order to create a better and more meaningful system that produces real large-scale societal benefits? I think so. The ethical thing is to go against the conventional process and create a new one so we can use our knowledge to help more people, faster.


~ by shanemccarty on May 2, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: