Guide steers campuses through moral mazes

October 7, 2005

British academics have helped to create the world's first ethics guide for universities.

Ethics Matters , which is aimed at lecturers, professors and university managers, will be sent free to vice-chancellors next week.

After that, the 40-page booklet - a joint project between the Council for Industry and Higher Education and the Institute for Business Ethics - will be on sale for £25.

The guide offers advice on a range of potential ethical problems including issues such as the extent to which universities should encourage freedom of speech amid fears of extremism on campus.

Other advice tackles thorny ethical dilemmas such as whether a head of department should reveal secretly planned job cuts to a lecturer who is likely to be made redundant and is about to put down a deposit on a home.

Its authors, who include vice-chancellors, industry chiefs and representatives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Universities UK, believe the publication of a university ethics guide is overdue.

Richard Brown, the chief executive of the CIHE and one of the guide's authors, said: "At least 90 of the top 100 British businesses have an ethics guide, yet British universities have not had one until now."

He said the guide's authors had studied the ethics policies of about 100 British universities and colleges and had found them to be fragmented and reactive. "They had developed strategies for student complaints and topics such as animal research, but there was no comprehensive guide," he said.

Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University and another of the guide's authors, believes universities should take a higher stance on moral issues.

He said: "The whole purpose of a university is ethical. We are looked up to, and we must make sure we act in a responsible way."

Tony Blair has sent a message of support to the authors of the guide. In it he stresses the importance of universities and colleges in helping students to prepare for life's ethical dilemmas.


Would you do the right thing?

1) A leading university on another continent would like to send an annual quota of its full-fee students to your university. A well-respected charity has recently accused the country of human rights abuses. Would you: a) Go ahead with the partnership regardless. The cash would be useful for the new business school building.

b) Decline the offer. It would be unimaginable for the university to accept money from a country with possible links to human rights abuses.

c) Ask colleagues in your Centre for the Study of Ethics and call the charity to find out more.

2) Your research deadline is looming and it is going to be almost impossible for you to complete your paper in time. Would you: a) Paraphrase part of one of your PhD student's work. The student will probably never know and would be flattered if he or she did find out.

b) Go to your departmental head with grovelling apologies and ask for an extension.

c) Cancel every evening arrangement in the hope that you will be just about able to finish the paper.

3) A pharmaceutical company offers an all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic destination if you give a talk about research you had little part in. Would you: a) Swot up on the research and go in the belief that you are representing colleagues, not just yourself.

b) Decline the opportunity and offer it to those you believe deserve the recognition.

c) To cover yourself, point out that you played a relatively small part in the research while reminding them that you are available to speak.4) As head of department, you have been told to promote one of your team, all of whom are strong candidates. How would you choose?

a) One of your staff has made no bones about competing for your job eventually. She certainly won't be chosen.

b) Photocopy everyone's CVs, having blacked out their names. That way you can decide without bringing personalities into the equation.

c) Eenie, meenie, miney, mo...

Find out how you fared...

Mostly As: You have few ethical hangups but be aware that your decisions may come back to haunt you.

Mostly Bs: You are your institution's moral compass. But colleagues may not love you for it.

Mostly Cs: You're more likely than not to do the "right thing". But a handy pocket ethics guide wouldn't go amiss.



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