What Then Should We teach?  Thoughts About the Teaching of Ethics Across the Curriculum.



This presentation will attempt to come to terms with what so many academic programs may be  asking for when the leaders of those programs task students with learning something about values and ethics.  Like so many courses that the Humanities Department offers, this one requires the active support of persons in all other departments.  I shall begin with attempting to de-bunk some fairly standard assumptions many of us make about the nature of ethics. I will take a look at the interplay between religion and ethics, attempting to find common ground between the methods of religious and secular ethics.  And I will finally focus on the nature of ethical analysis as one based on the two logical aspects, namely of (1) harms analysis and (2) internal logical consistency.  With that logical machinery developed, I want to try to analyze the problem of academic dishonesty, culminating in the suggestion of some practical applications of this theory to the use of Blackboard.  Having lost a more extroverted partner than I for this presentation, I look for active engagement on the part of participants.  So, give me about half an hour to read, and then please do offer comments.

 Teaching of Ethics

I usually begin my ethics class with the following question: “Who here knows the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?”  All hands go up—except for the few cautious ones who expect trickery.  As a follow-up, I pose the question, “Who opposes abortion?”  And, “Who endorses a woman’s free choice over her body, including her right to an abortion?”  Obviously, some hands go up for either proposition.  That’s the time to snap the trap, “So, about half of you don’t know the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ at all in regards to abortion, right?  We just don’t know which half of you doesn’t know the difference, right?”  That’s when the audience is in an ever so slightly better position for receptivity to learning ethics.  When I pose the same question at the end of the semester, students rarely raise their hands, having come to appreciate the complexity of ethical problems.

A few months or so ago, Jeb Bush announced in an address to inmates in a jail that prisoners who would find Jesus would also find a more willing ear for their parole requests.  Let me leave aside for the moment the problems that this kind of invitation sets up in terms of the separation of church and state when it comes from a state’s governor, and let me focus on whether Jesus does offer special assistance for ethical improvement.

One rule that Christianity endorses is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Does this rule help us in terms of the problem with academic dishonesty?  Does it advise against cheating? 

Suppose that Joe has not done his homework for the day; Mary has done everything for today, but she plans to spend tomorrow in a wet-T-shirt contest at the beach.  So, Mary reflects, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  She wants to have some copying assistance tomorrow, so why not help dear Joe today?  Since Joe is gay, he’d not attend the T-shirt contest and will be able to spend his time on cranking out tomorrow’s homework, which Mary then will also benefit from.  As you can see, the Golden Rule has lost its luster; it doesn’t do anything at all.  Bernard Gerts, ethicist of Dartmouth College, offers a delightful example of the ineffectiveness of the Golden Rule: “Suppose you hear a burglar in your house.  Should you call 911?”  Well, let’s consult the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would  have them do unto you.  So, let’s suppose you are a burglar, fully engrossed in your burgling with gusto and complete dedication; would you want anyone to call 911 on you?  Clear enough! You wouldn’t want anyone to call 911.  The Golden Rule says, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  So, the Golden Rule actually prevents you from calling 911. 

“But, ahhhhh!,” you will observe.  That burglar did not observe the Golden Rule when s/he began the burgling.  Well, that’s an important limitation here.  You don’t simply think that the Golden Rule will do something for anyone; what you really want to say is that the Golden Rule will only work for a community that completely endorses the Golden Rule all around together with some common additional standards for right behavior.  The so modified Golden Rule, then, says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—unless these others do not subscribe to your community—in that case, do what you want with them—put a hood over them, make them demean themselves before you, hit them, pile them up in sundry pile-ups; in short, do what you want.” 

Yikes! I have difficulties with that version of the Golden Rule, don’t you?  And in addition, I don’t want to get into what additional hair-raising variations of acceptability might lurk behind that rule also.  I had a student who praised his father for a strict education. Whenever the student would do wrong, his father would jab a fork into the kid’s elbow.  How do you tell an admiring offspring that his father was an abuser, not a loving but somewhat strict disciplinarian at all?  What kind of a Golden Rule set-up will this person have for his own offspring? 

I’m ready to believe that the Golden Rule is no specific help for anything, so a Jesus conversion guided by the Golden Rule would probably not give anyone an ethical advantage whatsoever—unless the community already shares an ethical foundation on different grounds altogether.

But perhaps we can go to everyone’s favorite: the ten commandments.  Of course, I have no idea why people stop with ten.  I suppose that the fewest folks read their bibles sufficiently to find out that the commandments go on, the eleventh one being a rule about how to build altars and how not to use hewn blocks for the steps up to the altar because one’s naked back-side is likely to moon everyone else below as one goes up those steps.  The only thing that demarcates the first ten from the rest 400 or so, is the wish of the Israelites not to have to listen to the powerful voice of the deity and to ask Moses for a private interview with the deity, after which he could share the results with the others.  But let’s go with the customary here and check if the traditional Decalogue will give the converts to Jesus a special advantage.  Let me run through the commandments quickly:

  1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven [i.e. “carved out”] image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Mill quotes Tacitus: 'Deorum injuriae Diis curae.' [The injuries done to the gods are the gods' concern.]  What a god or what gods would wish for us to do or not to do, given that she or they are omnipotent, should surely not require anyone’s intervention.  Besides, I and you perhaps also find the notion of generations to come as properly punished for the misdeeds of previous generations as abhorrent as incarceration of family members of a fugitive as instrumental for capturing the fugitive.  In fact, we should also note that these four commandments are entirely opposed to the freedom of and from religion that this country’s constitution espouses.  So, these rules are in varying degrees contradictory to the law of the land.  I will not mention the extraordinary degrees of misrepresentations of sabbath days—the Christians having selected Sunday and Muslims looking to Fridays. 

  1. Honour thy father and thy mother: that the days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Of course, we must make some allowances for poor parenting, such as the fork-jabbing dad I alluded to earlier.  I am not sure how much honoring I would prescribe for his offspring.  Let’s face it: this is a powerful rule for maintaining the patriarchy, not necessarily a rule for the achievement of some justice.  And the land that the Lord thy God has given you is actually a land that immigrants took away from a culture already established here.  I wonder how precarious that rule really is when one considers historical facts of either Palestine or the US of A. 

  1. Thou shalt not kill.

Finally a clear one.  And yet, has anyone done anything but sophistry with this one?  The most interesting sophistry I’ve run across is the suggestion that this really should be “thou shalt not murder.”  Now, if murder is killing that is illegal, then our morality must be subservient to a legal system that must have been conceived before this moral rule can take effect.  In a blatantly genocidal country, we must then conclude the mind-boggling ethical rule that one should indeed engage in the legislatively condoned genocide since—by legal definition—it is not murder.  Do I dare bring up animal rights here?  Note that the verb “kill” is without a grammatical object.  And now the rule is completely gutted, I’d say. 

  1. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Also a clear rule.  However, why the interpersonal fidelity should be of major ethical concern, I have no idea.  For an open marriage, I suppose, this rule can be suspended?  Or must we re-define “adultery” in the same manner as we re-defined “killing” in the last one? 

  1. Thou shalt not steal.

I have nothing against that one. However, the definition of “property” is a problem that underlies this simple and simplistic rule.  Rabbi Maimonides makes the exception of theft in the amount of that which one can eat.  European law makes the same exception.  Locke suggests that property is the result of one’s mixing one’s labor with resources.  What is the status of resources, however?  Can one buy and sell resources as the first settlers attempted to do with Manhattan Island?  Again and again, we hear of land reforms—procedures that re-apportion resource control so as to make property generation possible on the part of poor people.  Squatter’s rules apply here.  The complexities surrounding this deceptively simple rule are staggering.  Does the squatter steal?  Does one transfer resource-property by way of the work one has invested into it? 

  1. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

I suppose we’ll have to let at least one rule stand, won’t we?  And I will be polite enough not to attempt to nail down who one’s neighbor is, Jesus having done a much better job already with the story of the Good Samaritan, suggesting that your neighbor is any person in need even though you don’t recognize that person as someone of worth to you.  If need determines neighbor-relationships, this one has potential.  If you are a faithful Christian, I hope this one will jump you conceptually, when next you see an ancient woman push her belongings in a grocery cart toward the beach somewhere along the major traffic-arteries and you are tempted to claim that she has chosen the life-style voluntarily.  False witness in the extreme, I dare say. 

  1. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is they neighbour’s.

That’s the real goodie in the collection.  It lists all those properties of your neighbor’s that you should not covet.  Never mind that we’re living in a capitalist economy where competitive consumption is the name of the game.  You are supposed to covet your neighbor’s stuff so that you go out and buy more stuff yourself for the sake of a growth economy.  But look at the list: Wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, etc.—it’s all a pile-up of property. I wonder how many of our modern wives will buy dutifully into that one.  I wonder how many modern husbands will be so bald-faced as to demand that kind of subservience.  And maidservants and menservants are labeled by a different word in our modern language: We call them slaves.  So, endorse the Decalogue and—inter alia—you just have endorsed slavery, you have endorsed some conditional genocides, you have blown away the religious freedom clauses,  and you have made all, including poor parenting sacrosanct. 

I don’t think we’re doing so well so far.

Let’s take another look at the special situation of the religious:  Suppose that the religious person KNOWS moral rightness by some direct revelation.  What that would mean is that the individual now does not have to rely on either the Decalogue or the Golden Rule but will simply get direct inspirations as needed.  Let’s look at some such direct inspirations.  Suppose your name is Andrea Yates, and you’ve just arrived at the religiously inspired insight that you should kill five kids so as to make paradise instantly available to them and that you are willing to suffer eternal damnation, if need be, for the sake of your paradise-bound kids.  It’s not that unusual a rule; after all, Abraham went quite a way’s with Isaac, knowing that Isaac was the sacrifice.  So, kids do not enjoy special status by biblical reflection.  As we’ve seen in the commandments and in the Book of Job, kids do not have any standing of special moral privilege or protection; in the Book of Job, they are purely instrumental.

But suppose you’re a neighbor of Andrea Yates’ or her husband.  Now, God has not told you any such thing.  And you are not sure that you want Andrea to act this out in any way, fashion, or form.  What logical ammunition do you have to dissuade her?  One of the more cogent arguments I have run across suggests that one must begin with the assumption that God is a good god and that s/he, thus, will not demand something that is bad.  Now we merely have to solve which of these acts is likely to be good and thus commanded by God and which of these acts is likely to be bad and thus not commanded by God.   We must do some ethical analysis at this point so as to be able to determine which act is the good act and which act is the bad act.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out quite rightly that when the Christian contemplates a right act, no beam of light will come from the heavens above accompanied by a thunderous “Atta boy!” or “You go, Girl!”  The Christian has to work through problems in agony, the same way as any one of us secular types.  For Bonhoeffer himself—without doubt one of my moral heroes—this was the problem of working through the obedience clause of Paul’s letter to the Romans until it was clear to Bonhoeffer that, in some cases, the proper response to a rotten regime is to “throw a spoke into its wheels” after one has done all one could do, to first warn the regime and to then make every effort to protect its victims. 

 Here religious ethicist meets secular ethicist.  God does not give anyone a leg up on the competition when it comes to ethical analysis.  Any one of us must begin by working through the sordid details before drawing any kind of conclusions about right actions.

 Of course, we could live with a system of ad hoc rules perhaps and simply exclude copying from someone or academic dishonesty as being bad.  But then, of course, we would have to go along that route to list umpteen billion other such rules to exclude other behaviors.  That direction is indeed the one taken by many professional organizations.  We have codes of ethics and codes of conduct for many, many organizations.  Marvin Smith tells me that the code of ethics for ATC personnel is simply stated as “3 miles; 1 mile.”  However, that may be a slight simplification. The FAA has several web-pages filled with codes of conduct for its employees.  I would also humbly submit that no one has ever made an effort to memorize those rules or to check whether they really do cover all eventualities.  So, sound ethics instructions should seek to simplify and to generalize, two processes that already Einstein espoused for scientific thinking.  To do so, I recognize two principles. 

  1. Contemporary practical ethics endorses the “primum non nocere” rule: primarily, do no harm.  Or, as some re-phrase the rule: “Primarily, do no unjustified harm.”  Where harm has been done or is threatened to come about as a consequence of a decision, we must probably reject that decision as ethically undesirable.
  2. We must seek to generalize and universalize the rules we follow so that behavior in new situations can be deduced from the general, hypothesis-like rule.

 I am not prepared to offer a general theory of harms at this point.  A little reflection will show you that this criterion is not without its difficulties.  For example, if I want to streak across campus, has my nudity inflicted harm on you for seeing it?  Or has your squeamishness inflicted harm on me, by my not being permitted to indulge myself in a little streaking?  While there may indeed be many unclearly defined harms, we can certainly find some conditions where harm is clearly the case.  In fact, when a teacher is in danger of harming students in some manner, we all agree that that teacher ought to be suspended with pay until the harm can be conceptualized clearly and either be resolved with re-instatement or with final dismissal for cause—as our Handbook demands quite appropriately and fully cognizant of the non-obviousness and ambivalence of some such situations. 

 An interesting example of not letting someone come to harm as an ethical demand has been told by ethicist Peter Singer—and this example also crosses into Jesus’ notion of who’s our neighbor.  Suppose I go to graduation ceremonies in my transvestite garb.  On the way to the ceremony, I discover a person drowning in a newly established but poorly fenced retention pond.  I reason that the cleaning of my academic gowns would cost $35.00, money that I really do not have to spend right now and do not really wish to spend ever. And so I let the person drown whilst going on to the ceremony.  I would be very surprised if anyone here would find my act not reprehensible. 

 Let’s vary the data slightly. Suppose I get a letter from UNICEF asking for a contribution of $35.00; otherwise, five kids in a refugee camp of Sudanese in Chad will die of starvation.  I think everyone here would not think any worse of me if I were to pitch that envelope into the nearest garbage pail—with a slew of excuses, of course: like “guess how much doesn’t even get to the people but feeds administrative wheels in that outfit” or “we need to help the ones in this country first” or “maybe next month; I need the money this month” and so on.  Why is that?  Distance is not morally relevant.  Whether I stand five feet away from the victim or several thousand miles should—also by Jesus’ assumptions in the Good Samaritan parable—make absolutely no difference. And yet it does to us.

 Nonetheless, the do-no-harm principle is of some use in most situations of ethical reasoning and moral analysis. 

 The second principle is the consistency principle.  Now deceased, Cardinal Bernardini pointed out that the preservation of life is one such principle that the faithful Roman-Catholic ought to abide by.  If I endorse the principle that the biological property “human” bequeaths special moral status to any entity x so as to have its life preserved, then I must stand consistently against abortion, against capital punishment, against euthanasia, and—I suppose—also against warfare, St. Thomas Aquinas having first insisted that warfare is impossible for a Christian ethos before he makes some careful assumptions about just warfare. If I want to be inconsistent with these items, I should for the sake of rationality re-examine the issues sufficiently to re-evaluate a consistency at a different level. 

 With Peter Singer, I could, for example, take issue with the underlying equating of biological property as moral property ipso facto as essentially species-ist in the same manner in which some arguments are blatantly racist.  Doing so, I might offer rationality as the proper dividing line between moral entitlement and lack of moral entitlement.  In that case, the fetus loses moral entitlement; the death-row inmate keeps moral entitlement; the euthanasia candidate keeps moral entitlement—although the euthanasia candidate must also keep self-determinative powers; and, finally, some animals may also gain moral entitlement—given that Koko the gorilla is said to have an IQ of 90, that Washoe the chimp had signaled, “The moon is beautiful tonight” and “I am sad because my mother died,” that some Orangutans know clearly the difference between human languages (in the case that I observed: between German and Indonesian), and that at least one dog has been reported to have a recognized vocabulary of  200 to 300 words that designate his sundry toys.  And I won’t even mention all the collaborative ventures between dolphins and humans that go all the way back to Roman anecdotes in Latin.  The more difficult part of that kind of consistency is that some humans may be on the other side of the IQ boundary and may thus lose ethical entitlement.  Cause for reflection here is the status of the physicians who under Hitler had participated in the euthanasia program.  Their sincere testimony to believing to have acted in the interest of the mentally handicapped prevented the courts of post-war Germany from sentencing any of them. 

 Consistency is also a very important consideration in a recently published book by Peter Singer, entitled “The President of Good and Evil.”  Singer shows, inter alia, that Bush’s position on stem-cell research is blatantly inconsistent with his warfare and his stand on the death penalty.  Again, if I assume that the biological property “human” bequeaths special moral status ipso facto and if, on that basis, I support anti-abortion legislation or a lid on stem-cell research, then I am being inconsistent in my thinking if I support the death penalty and warfare, and Bush supports both.  So, you may want to say, he’s inconsistent; who cares!  But do reflect about the person who tells you, “The Martians have landed.”  When you go out to look, s/he says, “The Martians have not landed.”—“Did you lie to me when you told me that they did land?”  And s/he says, “No, I didn’t.  They landed, and they didn’t land.”  Well, good luck in trying to figure that one out.  I suspect strongly that, if you were to look indeed for information and not for confusion, you’d not rely on that person too awfully much.  And so there is merit in being logically consistent for most of us with a practical mind-set looking at the world.  Think of how often our students insist that your grade is not fair because classmate X had the same stuff but a better grade.  And so you will feel the onus on yourself to explain some of the variances that prompted you to give different grades.  Consistency is something we can reasonably expect from thinking people.

 So, using consistency and harms analysis, let me go to an ethical conceptualization of academic dishonesty.  The first step in this process is to find whom academic dishonesty harms.  The standard answer by most teachers is likely to be that the student harms him-/herself.  And that’s a nonsensical answer.  Since “cheating” is a relational activity, one must ask who cheats whom.  For example, it is not possible to cheat at playing solitaire.  Only one person is involved in the activity.  If I peek at cards or turn over the wrong number of cards, I have cheated no one.   However, if I were to play solitaire in a tournament setting, it would be most obvious that I have cheated all other participants in the tournament or at least that participant who would have won the tournament, had I not turned over the wrong number of cards or stacked my deck.  This is the case with any playing activity.  Each game has a set of rules that I can abide by or that I can flaunt.  If I abide by the rules, all of my fellow players will insist that I am not cheating, else they will consider me a cheater and one who is not being fair. 

 The same patterns obtain in sports. If a sportsperson uses a particular drug to excel, then the person has not cheated as long as s/he is running around the house, competing with no one but his or her own shadow.  But we feel that a wrong has been done when the person competes in, say, the Tour de France.  Since the person who uses the drugs has an advantage over others who had not done so, we can say that the person has cheated the other participants in the race.  I would also mention Diego Maradona here; but in that case, the use of drugs gave him anything but an advantage.  If anything, he cheated the players on his own team by not being able to offer his full capabilities for that team effort. 

 As teachers we might tell students that they are cheating themselves.  But this message makes no sense.  If I were to cheat myself, I would feel in pain or I would feel stupid.  Suppose I should have made change to someone who is paying me a $20 bill.  If I pay out five fives just to cheat myself, I should be quite mad, and I would seriously kick myself once my mind has returned to normal operations.  I have not ever met a student who ended up thinking of him- or herself as being stupid for cheating or who would turn angry toward him-/herself for doing something self-destructive such as cheating.  Even alumni will not make such a claim.  Therefore, it is unlikely that a message that a student is cheating him- or herself is going to be effective toward altering dishonest behavior. 

 I also don’t think that it’s effective to tell students that they are cheating the teacher.  In fact, I sincerely think that any student would seriously be concerned about the mental health of the teacher if the teacher were to react with anger at noticing illicit copying of, say, an examination.  If the teacher were to say, “You cheated me,” I would think the teacher a bit strange.  And so would the student.  While a teacher may have an obligation to stop cheating, his/her reaction is not on his or her own behalf.  There is certainly a difference between a teacher’s receiving the wrong change at a check-out lane and a teacher’s detecting an illicitly completed examination.  I should certainly be angry at losing money at the check-out lane; but my anger at the cheating student may be far less severe.  In fact, I should see the latter kind of cheating as a form of behavior which I have an ethical obligation to stop, not as one which I have a personal interest in to rectify as a circumstance of my life.

 In a sense, the cheating student may be said to cheat society since he/she is ill prepared to execute the job obligations later that he/she is preparing for now.  However, the notion of cheating society does not allow the student to see clearly whom he/she is harming.  In fact, the harm is so minute—this being a typical many-hands problem—that this kind of thinking is little likely to affect the student’s behavior in any immediate way.  We can visualize that kind of abstractness of the moral requirement by realizing that many of us will not hesitate to steal money from a malfunctioning vending machine but that we would certainly return the same amount to an individual whose pants might have a hole in them.  The vending machine belongs to a nebulously big abstract legal person or corporation; the individual with the hole in his pocket has a face and is not an abstractum.  So, appealing to students on these grounds, while such a claim has some validity, is unlikely to be effective.

 In another sense, the student is cheating other students.  The learning environment does have the same characteristics as a game or a sports environment, with grades and transcripts and certificates being provided as the prizes.  Any student who achieves a grade by dishonest means has actually managed to inflate the grades while deflating the corpus of learning that the grade certifies a student to have intellectual control of.  The phenomenon of  grade inflation is a case in point here.  If some students managed an “A” in mathematics by hard and honest work, they may find that by virtue of the actions of sundry cheating students, this ‘A’ has become undervalued by virtue of its ubiquity.  If all students manage “A’s” in a particular subject, then the “A” has become commonplace, or it has become that which a “C” has formerly recorded about a student’s work.   However, even this conceptualization—though it is quite accurate and sound—is still far too general and nebulous to be an effective persuader.   To treat students well in the aggregate is about as morally compelling as to return the dime to Coca Cola that I have found in the vending machine.  I will see the problem, I will lament the problem, I will even feel guilty about my action, but I will probably not do one thing about the problem—and neither can I expect students to be affected by this kind of very general thinking.

 I should also point out, however, that Princeton has recently limited the number of “A’s” students may receive in a particular course, a step that does recognize the problem of grade inflation indeed.  Since the underlying format of our educational system is a competitive format, students compete for grades, some of which will certify a victorious stand in the dash for good grades and others of which will certify a run with the pack.  Doubtlessly some of my more soft-hearted colleagues will think at this point, “But competition is really not such a good thing in the learning environment; we should really not make the students compete.”  In response to such an objection, I must admit first that such more communist or communitarian reflections are not altogether foreign to my feelings; however, such a criticism commits, logically speaking, a category mistake.  Let me illustrate how I see this as a category error: 

 Challenges to competition as a mode of achievement in a meritocratic capitalism are best directed to the system; they are problems of social philosophy, not pedagogical philosophy—the two being different categories, the former subsuming the latter.  No matter what we wish to create in our classes, we are cocooned in a capitalist meritocracy; you will not succeed in telling your students otherwise, whilst their eyes are on employment with corporate, governmental, or any other agencies. 

 If I can create a microcosm of what is going on in terms of grade inflation in the macrocosm of our society, I may bring persuasive power to students for them to cooperate in the enforcement of no-cheating rules.  In other words, what happens to grade inflation in the nation as a whole, of course, also happens to grade inflation within single classrooms.  If a student in a single classroom does manage to cheat, he or she is immediately increasing the class average and thus inflates it.  Frequently, teachers and students justify this phenomenon by insisting that where all students are excellent or—as in Lake Wobegone: above average—all students deserve “A’s.”    The generosity toward one another might guide this kind of thinking.  However, within the framework of our capitalist system, the classroom cannot avoid to be game-like competitive.

 So, let me wax practical for a moment and report what kinds of activities I have used to foster the alertness of students to the cheating problem.  For the last semester and the summer term, I have practiced the paperless classroom.   Students post their work in fora of Blackboard’s course-site.  These fora are in the public domain.  Anyone can read what anyone else has submitted.  When I evaluate the work, I use the reviewing toolbar of MSWord to embed comments that will not obliterate the students’ writing as much as the red-script overtype comments will do.  The work with my comments goes back into the forum, again accessible to all students.  The work with my comments does not have a grade, of course. The student is entitled to that privacy, so I post the grade in Blackboard’s grade-book.  In addition, I set up one forum where students may post messages anonymously. That forum does not permit file attachments; as most of you probably know, MSWord documents will contain information about computer owner’s or writer’s identity.  I will respond to anonymous messages with myself identified.  Once students trust the anonymity of the forum’s contributors, they will comment about a variety of problems or issues that bother them.  Among others, I received one series of comments attempting to alert me to the fact that one student had handed in one paper twice and had apparently gotten both papers accepted. Though the students had no idea what the grade may have been, they were seriously perturbed about such second-chance revisions of the same paper.  In that case, the paper was by an ESL student who had overlapping purposes, one to write a film report and one to present a similar film-report as part of a group discussing the death-penalty issue.  Because of his native-language interference, I thought that a rewritten paper might be a good way for him to come to a more tolerable level of expression.  And he did ask if he could re-write before doing so.  If another person had found such a dual opportunity, I would have permitted that also. 

 What’s my point?  The point is that students do read each other’s assignments, that they do consider fairness issues, and that—interestingly enough—avoid the kind of cheating where they swipe the mouse over some materials or where they make Research Associates wealthier.  And that reluctance stems from each person’s awareness that they have the entire class as co-readers of the teacher.  I recommend the system as a very practical approach to using the facts of a realistic ethical analysis.

 We could do more, of course.  I think that we could report grades—as Dartmouth College does—in the form “A of an A-average” or “A of a C-average” where the second figure is the average of any given class.  Students would soon realize that the “A of an A-average” is certainly not as desirable as the “A of a C-average” and could therefore be relied upon even more as willing whistleblowers for academic dishonesty. 

 Any of these systems grow out of the correct analysis of cheating as harm to other students.   The generalized principle, then, is the avoidance of harm.  Would a rule against gay marriage do harm?  Of course it would.  Would a rule of “must carry to term” do harm particularly to poor women?  Of course, it would.  Would the use of faulty o-rings do harm to people?  Of course, it would.  Does a suppression of whistleblowers as disturbing non-company-minded people do harm?  Of course, it does.  I would also recommend that, as we teach whatever subject we do teach, we make our students aware of tough decisions in those fields and that we show our students how harms analysis can help them decide when to be whistleblowers in their job situations.  When several Ospreys of the Marines have gone down and have killed people, the mechanic cannot tolerate the commanding officer’s overruling the mechanic’s non-flightworthiness certification and must go public.  When we feel that a colleague has acted on his or her conscience whilst attempting to accuse ERAU leadership to an outside agency, we must not depreciate that courage by vindictive plotting and character assassination.  When institutional structures do not allow for free expressions of ethical concerns, we ought to advise our job-seeking students to steer clear of such outfits.  And we should have exemplary structures operating here at ERAU so that we can point out to students how such structures ought to work.

 I sum up:

Ř      Embry-Riddle needs to change its grade-reporting format from reporting a mere grade to reporting a grade together with the average of the class in which the student has achieved the grade.

Ř      Students need to be part of the policy setting and the policing for academic honesty for each individual classroom and for procedures school-wide.

Ř      Blackboard’s power for letting students become part of the dialog between teachers and students must continue to be explored.

Ř      We all need to be conscious of harms-analysis as a way of reminding our students that it’s not OK to look away from problems and that it is OK to admire, appreciate, and integrate whistleblowers as part of also our system.

Ř      And finally, our training in ethics must maintain separation from religions—recognizing harms analysis and consistency requirement as independent of any metaphysical persuasions or religious practices.