- University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit From a Culture of Ethics by James F. Keenan
James F. Keenan
New York, NY: Rowan & Littlefield, 2015, 292 pages, $34.00 (hardcover, e-book)
University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit From a Culture of Ethics makes an important contribution to the literature. The book is focused on the ethics of being a university professional and offers a focused discussion of the ethical issues specific to higher education. The book also challenges higher education administrators to recognize and describe the issues as ethical in nature.
James F. Keenan begins the book talking about the underdevelopment of professional ethics within higher education. Currently, ethics are taught within disciplines including medicine, law, and engineering to name a few. Rarely do we teach ethics about ourselves, yet ethical mishaps occur with greater frequency and seem to garner much public scrutiny. These issues of “ethical compromise” (p. 1) unveil an ugly and shameful side of the university; many college presidents and administrators would rather not deal with them. In this book, Keenan discusses university ethics from a multidimensional perspective [End Page 481] and attempts to present ethical challenges and decisions universities regularly fail to address.
The book includes 11 chapters. Within the first 3 chapters, Keenan sets up the book with an exploration of the lack of ethics work done focusing specifically on university work. In the first chapter, Keenan discusses the Absence of Ethics at American Universities exploring how faculty and administrators rarely see ethical issues as systemic within the academy. One of the examples used was the church sex scandal and the ensuing investigation. It was concluded that the issue was beyond clergy acting inappropriately, but rather a culture of looking past destructive behavior for advancement, very much a culture that lacked ethical responsibility and transparency. The goal of the book is not what we are teaching students about ethics within the various disciplines; the issue Keenan is interested in offering in this book is that we are not intentionally teaching university ethics. We are not talking about ethics from a holistic perspective, including the administrators, faculty, students, and all the caretakers of the university. We should be engaging in dialogue about the “need for ethics for the public life of the entire university” (p. 7).
In chapter 2, Keenan defines ethics from the perspective of other professions and the function within the profession. For example, he explores medical ethics and church ministry to frame how other professions teach and value ethics. He highlights the lack of focus on ethics within the university by stating, “The university has, it seems, an awkward relationship with ethics. It teaches ethics for all professions except its own” (p. 9). In chapter 3, Keenan highlights the literature on ethics within the university and frames it within these categories: the history of the university and the development of the contemporary university, the public critique of contemporary universities, ethical critiques of some facets of academic life, and important contributions of Steven Kahn.
The bulk of the book, chapters 4 through 10 all focus on specific cases within the university. These chapters offer a more in depth focus on issues that highlight the “urgent need for a culture of ethics for our universities today” (p. 7). Chapter 4 investigates adjunct faculty and the need to look at working conditions and treatment within our colleges and universities. Chapter 5 focuses on culture and the multiple cultures that form and exist within the academy. Cultures vary and can form a hierarchical vacuum within the university. The sixth chapter explores cheating and intellectual integrity. Keenan frames these topics from multiple perspectives and states that they stem from the university culture rather than placing blame solely on the students or faculty. We cannot keep creating polices to try to affect cheating without doing a more holistic look at the culture around cheating that has been created and sustained at the university.
Chapter 7 focuses on undergraduates acting badly. Keenan explores the culture of rape and racially charged parties, the Greek community, hazing, and the influence...