Learned Ethical Behavior: An Academic Perspective
By Gundersen, David E Capozzoli, Ernest A; Rajamma, Rajasree K
ABSTRACT. The authors analyzed the reactions of various academic- level respondent groups to 14 short scenarios reflecting ethical dilemmas in higher education and research. As the authors hypothesized, groups differed in their views of the dilemmas presented. The results did not support a 2nd hypothesis predicting a linear relationship between academic achievement of respondent groups and their ethical responses. The authors expected that as respondents gained more exposure to ethical perspectives through further education, they would respond accordingly, supporting a correlation effect. Despite significant differences between groups in their assessments of the dilemmas, situational differences other than educational attainment appeared to be most influential. The authors discussed implications, which raised doubt about whether teaching ethics enhances ethical behavior. Keywords: academics, authorship, ethics, publications, research
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After the collapse of some wellknown organizations such as energy giant Enron and the public accounting firm Arthur Andersen, a new concern has emerged regarding issues and practices of ethical behavior in organizations. However, ethical behavior concerns are not limited to the for-profit type of organizations that garner major headlines when ethical mistakes are made. Less visible but perhaps more pervasive are ethical issues that permeate higher educational institutions in which ethics are considered, taught, learned, and carried toward the private sector. Inherent in this view of ethical learning in higher education is the notion that individuals grow and mature in their perspectives on ethics as they progress in their academic achievements. In short, individuals should become more ethical as they increase their educational accomplishments because of increasing exposure in both receiving and administering ethics curricula. If this were not true, teaching ethics would be viewed as a waste of time.
Other researchers have supported the link between changing ethical mores and educational accomplishments: As individuals progress through different levels of cognitive moral development, their ability to deal with ethical dilemmas improves (Christensen & Kohls, 2003; Goolsby & Hunt, 1992; James, 2000; Kohlberg, 1969). Consequently, a pattern of increasing ethical standards should emerge as individuals progress educationally and cognitively.
Still other researchers have viewed the business educational domain as featuring so many theories on ethical content that the domain may confuse students (Anderson, 2007). This view has foundation in the notion that business curricula have evolved from the scientific model, in which the sole means of knowledge acquisition is science (Buchholz & Rosenthal, 2008). Consequently, the development of ethics curricula as a multidisciplinary topic has evolved from an eclectic arena of sciences across many academic areas. No single discipline is responsible for the ethics domain.
Ethical behavior in an academic setting relating to research and publishing has been a debatable topic for decades (Cahn, 1994; Payne & Charnov, 1987). Despite the inclusion of ethics as an integral part of most formal curricula in many fields today, researchers have acknowledged that organizational culture after formal education plays a major role in how individuals perceive their moral responsibilities (Frederick & Weber, 1987). Research has indicated that organizational factors help to explain ethical decision making by individuals (Kelley, Skinner, & Ferrell, 1989; Robin & Reidenbach, 1987). Consequently, organizational factors have garnered all the attention and have been used to explain ethical failures in organizations. Profit, bonuses, and greed have all been culprits of failure. Few, if any, links to the academic realm from which individuals come have been considered. With all the attention on ethical breakdowns in organizations, the present research focused on ethics in higher education. More specifically, this research targeted whether individuals vary in their perceptions of ethical dilemmas as they progress from undergraduate education to successful academic careers. The intent was to investigate whether increased education influences perceptions of ethical dilemmas that occur in a higher education environment.
Research and Ethics in Academia
The academic publishing environment contains many factors that may induce unethical behavior. Increased research requirements create intense pressure on both tenured and untenured faculty who must publish to progress and stay credible in their careers. Extrinsic rewards such as pay raises, promotions, and tenure are often directly connected to faculty publishing. The use of publications as an index of faculty productivity is increasing. Most universities in the United States base promotion and tenure decisions on the three criteria of research, teaching, and service. However, many researchers (Cargile & Bublitz, 1986; Hermanson, Hermanson, Ivancevich, & Ivancevich, 1995; Shultz, Meade, & Khurana, 1989) have asserted that, of these three, research-and resulting publications-is given the most weight in promotion and tenure decisions. Parasuraman (2003) rightfully pointed out that publish or perish has become a pervasive phrase in the professorial lexicon. The American Marketing Association (AMA) Task Force on the Development of Marketing Thought (1988) reached a similar conclusion. They found that the system truly deserves its appellation of publish or perish. The current academic performance appraisal system emphasizing publishing produces strong and undesirable incentives toward knowledge development on the part of young academicians. It is extremely short-term in orientation, almost entirely peeroriented, and directed toward achieving only one thing: a maximum number of publications to assure promotion and tenure (Monroe et al., 1988).
While professors struggle to publish for tenure and promotion, doctoral students are at a frenzied level to get published and make themselves more attractive commodities for the job market. Production of a publishable quality manuscript is often one of the requirements of seminars in doctoral programs at most universities. Master’s degree students are not immune to publishing pressure. Although students pursuing master’s degrees are not under as much pressure as doctoral students, frequently a major proportion of grades earned by master’s students are linked to the quality of a required manuscript in many courses.
As novices in research and publishing, one of the avenues open to graduate students is to get trained in the skills of publishing by working with a productive professor. Of course, most doctoral students grab the opportunity offered to them by any of the mentors or professors with whom they work as research and teaching assistants. Because there are no established codes of conduct, the ethical practices of this area are largely determined by the beliefs and values held by the individuals involved. Moreover, major antecedents of unethical behavior such as competitiveness (Ford & Richardson, 1994; Hegarty & Sims, 1978), self-interest (Beu & Buckley, 2001), work pressure (Brenner & Molander, 1977; Ford & Richardson), and other situational variables are ample in academic research and publishing. According to Ford and Richardson, when the decision maker’s job security or the survival of the organization is at stake, the pressure on the individual to act unethically is very high. Because academic research and publishing offer such a high- pressure environment, ethical dilemmas related to research and publishing in academia provide an excellent forum for assessing the possibility of changing ethical perceptions for individuals as they progress in their academic experiences. In short, the objective of the present research is to understand the differences in responses of students and faculty to ethical dilemmas faced during the process of academic research and publishing.
Capozzoli, Gundersen, and Scifres (1996) postulated that individuals are exposed to ethical dilemmas in the academic setting throughout their association with the educational institution. The exposure continues even after they enter academia as assistant professors and advance in their professorial careers toward promotion to full professors. Many ethical dilemmas arise in higher education because of the emphasis on and the nature of research. Research is a complex task that is typically unstructured with few roadmaps to follow. The norms of publishing are frequently limited to university institutional review boards whose focus is on the protection of human participants (Orlans, 2004). For many academics involved in publishing, ethical decisions related to research are frequently framed by the views of colleagues who have decided on paths or solutions primarily on their own. Ethical codes of conduct from professional associations might exist but rarely determine decision outcomes unless the consequences of the decisions are dire.
Student Roles in Publishing
Capozzoli et al. (1996) described how students act as resources for professors. They believed that students act as a constant source of ideas for research and provide most of the research assistance, including conducting the actual research, collecting data, and, in many PhD programs, writing the articles. Hence, it is logical to conclude that the faculty- student relationship is one of mutual dependency. However, this mutual dependency appears very one-sided to most students who view their survival in a graduate program as essentially linked to the preferences of the professors. Suspicions abound that at least some faculty engage in unethical behavior and take undue advantage of the vulnerable status of their students. Working for the National Institute of Health, McGee (1996) found that young scientists frequently complain about their laboratory directors, dissertation advisors, and others who inappropriately insist on being listed as authors of articles on the basis of simply being superiors to those who actually did the research and writing. On the basis of these findings, we expected that faculty are bound to differ markedly from students in their perceptions of ethical issues related to research and publishing. Based on the previous discussion and literature review, the objective of this study was to measure the responses of faculty and students to situations posing ethical dilemmas in academic research and publishing. We also sought to explore whether respondent groups have different ethical perceptions and whether those group perceptions vary directly as educational credentials increase. To summarize our objectives in terms of hypotheses (H^sub n^), we offer the following:
H^sub 1^: Perceptions of ethical behavior will vary at different levels of academic maturity, measured as undergraduates, master’s students, doctoral students, assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors.
H^sub 2^: Group ratings of ethical behavior will consistently (linearly) trend with increasing educational credentials (achievement) associated with the group.
After a relevant review of literature, we created a questionnaire containing 25 scenarios relating to ethical dilemmas in which personal experiences were considered. To help organize the questionnaire and facilitate analysis, we used the framework offered by Campbell (1987) identifying stages or the chain of events in the publication process as the basis for classifying the scenarios describing ethical dilemmas. The stages include (a) idea generation, (b) data generation, (c) report generation, and (d) publication. The classification of scenarios was content validated using four graduate students and four professors at a major Southeastern university.
The content validators mutually agreed on the stage of the Campbell (1987) framework of 14 of the 25 scenarios. The resulting questionnaire included 4 scenarios associated with idea generation, 4 scenarios associated with data generation, and 6 scenarios associated with report generation. The publication stage did not have any scenarios that were unanimously associated with it by the graduate students and professors. Of the 14 scenarios, 12 were scored on a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (ethical) to 4 (unethical). We scored 2 scenarios relating to ownership on a 3- point scale ranging from 1 (student ownership) to 3 (professor ownership). The items using this scale are identified in the Results section.
Respondents to the questionnaire were all members of a large Southwestern university and were primarily from the college of business. Business student respondents corresponded to the degree programs offered, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Faculty respondents were affiliated with business administration, public affairs and community service, and merchandising and hospitality management. Colleges outside of business were included to increase the sample size for the faculty respondent group. A total of 143 faculty members from various academic disciplines were sent questionnaires. Of these, 60 faculty members responded with correctly completed instruments, providing a response rate of almost 42%. Although most faculty members declined to list their academic disciplines because of confidentiality concerns, college affiliations were recorded. Consequently, information on academic disciplines was discarded from subsequent analyses. College affiliations of faculty respondents showed that 29 were from business administration, 15 were from public affairs and community service, and 16 were from merchandising and hospitality management. Of this group of 60 faculty respondents, 20 had the professor rank, 20 had the associate professor rank, and 20 had the assistant professor rank. All faculty ranks had a response rate of more than 35%.
From the college of business, 268 students received questionnaires, and 234 of them responded with correctly completed instruments, yielding a response rate of 87%. The respondent breakdown by student class consisted of 43 doctoral students, 81 master’s degree students, and 110 undergraduate students. All categories of student respondents exceeded response rates of 80%.
We used several procedures to investigate differences in ethical perceptions between varying levels of faculty and students. First, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to assess differences in means for all items across each of the groups. Second, we used univariate analyses of variance (ANOVAs) to investigate differences in group response by items, including academic ranks for faculty and students and college affiliation for faculty. Post hoc analyses using Scheffe tests were applied to test significant differences between academic ranks of students and professors by items. No significant differences across items were found for faculty affiliation by college.
The results of the MANOVA, F(84, 1644) = 6.35, p < .001, supported the notion that there were group perceptual differences in responses to the ethical dilemmas presented. Tables 1, 2, and 3 contain the results from the ANOVAs in which items are grouped by idea generation, data generation, and report generation, respectively. Means and standard deviations for items are also included in the tables. We present each stage and corresponding items associated with the stage next.
Idea Generation Items
Table 1 contains the means and standard deviations for items associated with the idea generation stage of the Campbell (1987) framework depicting stages in the publication and research process. Letters (representing academic ranks) following means of specific academic rank scores indicate significant differences between ranks at p < .05.
The professor makes no attempt to submit a jointly authored paper to a journal and will not give the student author permission to submit the paper to a journal. The student submits the paper to a journal anyway, and it is accepted with the student as sole author. The student acted in a manner that was:
There were no significant results for this item. All groups across both student and faculty ranks tended to rate this action on the ethical side of the scale. Despite the lack of significance across groups, results showed that the full professor and the associate professor were the farthest apart, with the associate professor considering it more ethical than did other student and faculty ranks.
The student and the professor are having a heated debate over a paper written for the professor’s class. The student author feels that the paper is his intellectual property and should be his to submit or not submit to a journal. Who owns the intellectual rights to the paper?
This item used a 3-point scale ranging from 1 (student ownership) to 3 (professor ownership).
The overall univariate analysis was significant, F(5, 289) = 1.930, p = .048. Scheffe results indicated that undergraduates responded significantly differently than did assistant professors. Although all groups tended to view ownership rights as belonging to the student, undergraduates felt more strongly about it, whereas assistant professors felt less so.
A professor comes up with an original research idea and the student does all the work associated with the research and paper. The paper is submitted by the professor and accepted with the student as first author and the professor as second author. The professor’s action is:
Univariate analyses, F(5, 289) = 2.352, p < .05, and Scheffe results indicated that assistant and associate professors differed significantly from all the student groups and from full professors. Assistant and associate professors indicated that the action was ethical, whereas the other groups viewed the action as less ethical. One possible explanation for the difference might be that assistant and associate professors may still require tenure and have at least one more promotion to achieve, and publishing provides the means to that end. This need to publish may influence their view of taking advantage of a studentgenerated publishing opportunity, resulting in their viewing it as more ethical. Full professors are not under such pressures because they have achieved the pinnacle of their academic career. Students who do the work appear more likely to think of the professor's action as less ethical.
A professor comes up with an original research idea and the student does all the work associated with the research and paper. The paper is submitted by the professor and accepted with the professor as first author and the student as second author. The professor’s action is:
Univariate analyses, F(5, 289) = 4.764, p < .001, and Scheffe results indicated that undergraduates viewed this behavior as more unethical than did other respondent groups, with all groups viewing the action as between ethical and unethical. A possible explanation is that undergraduate students simply do not understand the realities of publishing and that they view the professor's action as inappropriate and the contribution of a research idea as insignificant. To the contrary, graduate students and faculty understand the collaboration on research, even when the only contribution is the research idea. Data Generation Items
Table 2 contains the means and standard deviations for items associated with the data generation stage of the Campbell (1987) framework depicting stages in the publication and research process. Letters (representing academic ranks) following means of specific academic ranks indicate significant differences between the ranks at p < .05.
To meet the requirements of a course, a student must conduct research and store the raw data results in a university computer. The student and the professor are having a heated debate over the data and subsequent use of the data. Who owns the intellectual rights to the data?
This item used a 3-point scale ranging from 1 (student ownership) to 3 (professor ownership).
There were no significant results for this item. All groups across student and faculty ranks tended to rate ownership as between (a) student and (b) both professor and student. Apparently, the storage of data on a university computer does not automatically mean ownership by a professor.
We designed Items 6, 7, and 8 to explore the ethics of student- funded research. The scenarios required that a student conduct and fund research to complete course requirements. The scenarios varied the research costs that were to be funded by the student.
To meet the requirements of a course, a student must conduct research that may cost more than $500 of their own money to initiate and complete. The professor also requires that a paper be written from the research. The professor’s request is:
The univariate results, F(5, 289) = 2.241, p < .05, and Scheffe post hoc analyses indicated that the full professor group was significantly different from all three student respondent groups. It is not surprising that the student groups viewed this action as more unethical than did the faculty groups, with the full professor viewing this as more ethical than did all others. Perhaps full professors are too far removed from the experience of lean living, in which money is a major consideration in life decisions, especially in comparison with student groups.
To meet the requirements of a course, a student must conduct research that may cost more than $50 of their own money to initiate and complete. The professor also requires that a paper be written from the research. The professor’s request is:
Results for this item revealed a significant univariate outcome, F(5, 289) = 2.288, p < .05, with a range in which undergraduates leaned toward slightly unethical perspective, whereas assistant professors had a slightly ethical perspective. Post hoc analyses revealed that assistant professors differed from all student groups and that full professors differed from undergraduates. It is interesting that assistant professors, who had perhaps the most to accomplish yet in their careers, felt that the action was more ethical in comparison with the students. Again, for full professors, money may be less of an issue, so that a mere $50 should not be a hindrance to research, especially in comparison with undergraduate financial status.
To meet the requirements of a course, a student must conduct research that may cost more than $300 of their own money to initiate and complete. The professor also requires that a paper be written from the research. The professor’s request is:
Univariate analyses, F(5, 289) = 2.243, p < .05, and Scheffe results indicated that full professors differed significantly from student groups. This item's results paralleled results from Item 6, for which the same explanations could be made. It is noteworthy that full professors' perceptions did not differ much between scenarios using $500 and those using $300.
Report Generation Items
Table 3 contains the means and standard deviations for items associated with the report generation stage of the Campbell (1987) framework depicting stages in the publication and research process. Letters (representing academic ranks) following means of specific academic ranks indicate significant differences between the ranks at p < .05.
We designed Items 9, 10, and 11 to represent varying degrees of faculty contribution and authorship order. Items 12, 13, and 14 focused on the inclusion of an additional author who is a friend of the faculty member, so that varying degrees of faculty contribution and authorship order were again tested.
The professor makes no changes to a paper and submits the paper to a journal listing himself as first author and the student as second author. The professor acted in a way that was:
Both the univariate and Scheffe results across all items lacked significance despite differences in responses. Doctoral students and assistant professors represented the extreme ends of the scale. Although all response groups viewed the action as unethical, doctoral students deemed it less unethical in comparison with others, with assistant professors furthest away on the scale. Doctoral students understand the importance of linking with faculty who publish and are therefore more resigned to accept this action in comparison with other groups. Once doctoral students graduate and become assistant professors, they no longer have to accept professors’ intrusions into a submitted manuscript and probably feel more strongly that the action is unethical.
The professor makes no changes to a paper and submits the paper to a journal listing the student as first author and himself as second author. The professor acted in a way that was:
Univariate analyses, F(5, 289) = 2.995, p < .05, and Scheffe results indicated differences in that the range for respondent groups showed undergraduates' viewing the action as least unethical and assistant professors' feeling the action was more unethical in comparison with all other groups between the two positions. Significant differences existed between (a) undergraduates and (b) master's degree students, doctoral students, and assistant professors. Master's degree students also differed with assistant professors, who felt that the action was less ethical in comparison. Additionally, full professors differed with assistant professors, who viewed this as more unethical in comparison. In fact, assistant professors, as already indicated, felt more strongly that the action was unethical in comparison with all other groups. This finding is consistent with Item 9, in response to which assistant professors also had the most extreme response, leaning toward the unethical rating. As we hinted in Item 9's section, the transition from doctoral student to assistant professor is a watershed event where the individual moves from a self-perception of lacking power to a feeling of empowerment. This change may help to explain the extreme ratings of assistant professors. However, this feeling is tempered by the fact that assistant professors have further to go in their careers, as we mentioned in Item 3's section, and do need to publish. The primary difference between Item 10 and Item 3 is that a research idea is provided by the professor in Item 3. This is a contribution that is missing in Item 10 and may help to explain the different perspectives of the associate professor across the two scenarios.
The professor makes substantial changes to a paper and submits the paper to a journal listing himself as first author and the student as second author. The professor acted in a way that was:
Univariate and Scheffe analyses did not reveal any significant findings for the above scenario. However, scores indicated that the range on the ethical scale had doctoral students viewing the action as more ethical than did other groups. From a realistic perspective, this behavior probably happens frequently, and doctoral students probably view it more as the norm than as the exception.
The professor sends the paper to a colleague and does not consult the student. The paper is essentially unchanged after review by the two professors. The paper is subsequently sent to a journal with the student as the third author. The professor acted in a manner that was:
There were no significant differences and all groups viewed this behavior as unethical.
The professor sends the paper to a colleague and does not consult the student. The paper is essentially unchanged after review by the two professors. The paper is subsequently sent to a journal with the student as the first of three authors. The professor acted in a manner that was:
The univariate analysis revealed significant differences between the student and faculty groups, F(5, 289) = 4.827, p < .001. Scheffe post hoc analyses indicated that undergraduate students viewed this as more ethical and differed significantly from the master's degree group and all faculty groups, whose members felt the behavior to be more unethical. Doctoral students also differed from full professors, who felt that the action was more unethical. It is interesting that all professor groups felt that the action was highly unethical. Undergraduates were in the middle of the scale, being more neutral about the ethics of the action. Their ignorance and lack of familiarity with the research process and rules of the research game might explain their relative neutrality. Regarding doctoral students, perhaps their need to publish overrode any countervailing pressures on ethicality.
The professor sends the paper to a colleague and does not consult the student. The paper is improved substantially after review by the two professors. The paper is subsequently sent to a journal with the student as the third author. The professor acted in a manner that was: No significant differences between the groups existed. A surprising aspect of the results is that undergraduates felt that this scenario showed action that was more unethical compared to actions in Item 13. Apparently substantial improvement by the professor does not equate to a more ethical rating by undergraduate students.
The present study confirms H1 in that for some ethical scenarios, different groups perceived the ethical dilemmas dissimilarly. More specifically, 8 of the 14 items showed that the respondent groups of students and faculty varied in their perceptions of how ethical the scenarios were. In contrast, H2 was not supported in that no linear or consistent association was found between the groups’ ratings and their levels of academic achievement.
A supposition of this study was that as people progress from undergraduate to full professor, their ethical sensitivity should trend from less ethical to more ethical. In short, responses should trend from a point on the scale for undergraduates that is progressively higher or lower depending on the ethicality of the scenario to a different point for full professors. This trend should occur due to increased exposure to formal ethical education as in most higher education curricula. Ethics as a topic is consistently covered in many courses across various disciplines. It is sometimes an entire course that may be either required or an elective for particular programs of study. However, this view was not supported in the present study. Rather, student and faculty groups rated scenarios without any apparent trend associated with their academic achievement level. In fact, situational circumstances associated with a group’s level appear to be more explanatory than the actual educational level attained.
Results from this research raise questions about the notion that teaching ethics or increased exposure to ethical standards in academia somehow offers individuals the opportunity to evolve in their ethical perceptions. Perhaps common circumstances associated with their academic station (i.e., doctoral students) are more influential in establishing ethical standards than are their academic achievements as postulated earlier.
One implication of the present study raises the question of whether the inclusion of ethics in a formal educational setting, specifically in business schools, has any ethical behavioral benefits. Although this issue is beyond the scope of the present study, researchers must wonder whether ethical education is worth the time and money in terms of preparation, curriculum development, and class time. Perhaps talking about ethics has only a minimal effect, whereas circumstantial ethics experiences associated with an individual’s educational group have more of an effect. It is also possible that beneficial effects beyond the ethical ratings of scenarios in the present study may be influenced by ethical content in education. Further research identifying additional benefits is necessary to determine whether this is true. Researchers must also recognize that data for the present study came from one large university, so ethical views may or may not be generalized to the larger population of universities. Further research addressing this possibility would require use of a multi-university data set.
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DAVID E. GUNDERSEN
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN STATE UNIVERSITY
ERNEST A. CAPOZZOLI
KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY
RAJASREE K. RAJAMMA
David E. Gundersen is a professor of management and specializes in human resource management and ethical decision making.
Ernest A. Capozzoli is an associate professor of accounting with interests in accounting information systems and information system technology development.
Rajasree K. Rajamma is an assistant professor of marketing at Charles F. Dolan School of Business with teaching and research interests in healthcare marketing and consumer decision making.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David E. Gundersen, Department of MMIB, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX 75962, USA.
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