Ethics of Teaching:
Beliefs and Behaviors of Psychologists as Educators
ABSTRACT: Lacking are comprehensive, systematically gathered data concerning the beliefs and behaviors of psychologists functioning as educators. Survey data were collected from 482 APA members whose primary work setting is in an institution of higher education. They were asked the degree to which they engaged in each of 63 behaviors and the degree to which they considered each of these to be ethical. These behaviors fell into such categories as course content, evaluation of students, educational environment, disrespectful behavior, research and publication issues, financial and material transactions, social relationships with students, and sexual relationships with students and other faculty. Of the 63 behaviors, 6 were very difficult for participants to evaluate on the basis of ethics, and 10 were exceptionally controversial. Of the 63 behaviors, 3 were practiced by at least 90% of the respondents on at least a rare basis; 10 were practiced by fewer than 8%. Data are compared with those from a previous national survey of psychologists functioning as therapists.
Ethics and conduct of service-providing psychologists working outside of academic settings have received considerable coverage in the scholarly and professional literature. Parallel literature describing the ethical dilemmas and responsibilities of psychologists teaching in academic institutions has been confined almost exclusively to two areas: supervision or treatment of students as researchers or research participants, and sexual harassment of students and supervisees.
Examinations of the ethical responsibilities of university teaching faculties across all disciplines are quite few (see, e.g., Baumgarten, 1982; Brown & Krager, 1985; Callahan, 1982; Deutsch, 1979; Dill, 1982; Hook, Kurtz, & Todorovich, 1977; Schurr, 1982; Scriven, 1982; Wilson, 1982), and fewer yet for teaching psychologists (see, e.g., Cole, 1981; Goodstein, 1981; Keith-Spiegel & Koocher, 1985; Matthews, 1989; Redlich & Pope, 1980).
The paucity of scholarly essays and the lack of empirical studies of ethics in academe does not mean that university faculties have remained unscrutinized. A small stream of books echoing concerns about professors range from stinging indictments, such as Sykes's (1988) ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education or Professor X's (1973) This Beats Working for a Living: The Dark Secrets of a College Professor, to more thoughtful but nevertheless unsettling criticisms such as Cah n's (1986) Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia or the best sellers Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know Hirsch, 1987) and The Closing of the American Mind (Bloom, 1987). Perhaps this recurring "professor-bashing" is at least partially responsible for the tendencies of faculty members to shy away from objective self-examination.
Academic professional associations have not ignored ethical obligations altogether, although formal policies regulating conduct have not emerged gracefully. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) does have an ethics code (AAUP, 1987), although as Dill (1982) pointed out, early resistance to dealing with self-discipline and conduct regulation was extensive. John Dewey believed that the concept of academic freedom was meaningless without a consideration of academic responsibility. Dewey founded and chaired a short-lived committee on professional ethics in the early 1920s; yet, it was to be almost 50 years before AAUP would adopt its first ethics code (Dill, 1982).
The American Psychological Association (APA) represents a discipline whose members function in diverse work settings, and academic psychologists have never been exempted from inclusion in the mandates of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists APA, 1977, 1981, 1990). The more recent revisions of the Ethical Principles have included principles directed explicitly to teaching psychologists. For example, the current ethics code admonishes, "As teachers, psychologists recognize their primary obligation to help others acquire knowledge and skill. They maintain high standards of scholarship by presenting psychological information objectively, fully, and accurately."
Our profession, however, has lacked empirical data about what aspects of teaching are viewed as presenting ethical dilemmas for psychologists, how often those dilemmas occur, and how psychologists respond. We conducted the following survey to gather some initial data about the ethical attitudes and behaviors of psychologists functioning as teachers.
A survey questionnaire, a cover letter, and a return envelope were sent to 1,000 psychologists (500 men and 500 women) identified from the full membership section of the Membership Directory of the American Psychological Association. The sample was randomly selected from among those who listed an academic department as their address and/or who were members of Division 2 (Teaching of Psychology).
The survey questionnaire was adapted from that used in a comparison study of psychologists functioning as therapists (Pope, Tabachnick, & Keith-Spiegel, 1987). Participants were asked to rate each of 63 behaviors in terms of two categories. First, to what extent had they engaged in the behavior in their work as teachers? Participants could rate the behavior's occurrence in their academic activities as never, rarely, sometimes, fairly often, or very often. Second, to what extent did the participants consider the behavior ethical? In rating whether each behavior was ethical, participants could use five categories: unquestionably not, under rare circumstances, don't know/not sure, under many circumstances, and unquestionably yes.
Respondents were also asked to provide information about their own age, sex, primary teaching setting or academic appointment, type of teaching (e.g., classroom, research supervision), tenure status, and primary specialty (e.g., experimental, social, clinical).
Demographic Characteristics and Ratings of the 63 Behaviors
Questionnaires were returned by 483 of the 1,000 respondents solicited; 482 provided usable data. Table 1 presents descriptions of the respondents' sex, age, primary teaching setting, and whether tenured. Of the 469 respondents who revealed their sex, more than one half were women (253), although an equal number of questionnaires had been addressed to men and women. About one half the respondents were between the ages of 36 and 50 (54%); 19% were younger than that, and 27% were older.
|35 and under||92||19.1|
|36 to 50||259||54.0|
Primary teaching setting
|Department granting MA||103||21.4|
|Department granting PhD||224||46.5|
Almost one half (46.5%) of the respondents were affiliated with a PhD-granting department; another 43% identified their primary teaching setting as a four-year college or one granting the MA degree. About two thirds of the respondents were tenured. As seen in Table 2, almost all of the respondents indicated having classroom teaching responsibilities.
Note: Percentages sum to more than 100 because respondents were asked to check all types that apply.
The most common primary specialty reported was clinical (24%), then experimental (18%), social (16%), and developmental (14%). Primary specialty areas are presented in Table 3.
|Physiological and related||14||2.9|
Table 4 shows the percentage of respondents' ratings for each of the 63 behaviors in terms of occurrence in their own teaching and the degree to which they believe the behavior to be ethical.
Percentage of Psychologists Responding in Each Category (N = 482)
|1||Using school resources to create a "popular" psychology trade book||92.1||2.3||2.7||0.2||0.2||7.9||21.0||29.3||29.7||8.3|
|2||Ignoring strong evidence of cheating||79.0||17.2||2.3||0.2||0.2||69.3||20.1||3.3||2.5||3.9|
|3||Giving easy courses or tests to ensure your popularity with students||78.0||18,7||2.3||0.4||0.6||59.8||24.3||7.7||4.4||2.5|
|4||Giving academic credit instead of salary for student assistants||51.0||10.8||16.8||11.6||7.3||16.0||20.7||16.0||31.3||13.3|
|5||Selling unwanted complimentary textbooks to used book vendors||46.9||13.5||22.8||10.8||6.0||29.7||14.5||26.1||19.5||9.1|
|6||Teaching full time while "moonlighting" at least 20 hours per week||83.0||6.2||5.0||2.3||2.9||17.2||30.5||14.7||24.7||10.6|
|7||Dating a student||84.6||10.2||4.1||0.8||0.2||45.6||34.2||5.6||11.6||2.1|
|8||Asking small favors (e.g., a ride home) from students||26.8||46.7||23.2||1.9||0.8||5.2||32.0||12.4||40.7||8.1|
|9||Hugging a student||28.4||36.5||28.0||5.4||1.2||5.6||41.3||10.0||36.1||5.8|
|10||Telling a student: "I'm sexually attracted to you"||92.7||6.8||0.0||0.2||0.0||68.9||20.7||3.6||4.6||1.3|
|11||Accepting a student's expensive gift||85.3||13.3||1.2||0.2||0.0||52.3||35.1||5.2||5.2||1.2|
|12||Teaching while too distressed to be effective||32.8||45.4||20.1||1.0||0.0||8.9||36.6||28.8||16.8||5.2|
|13||Becoming sexually involved with a student||89.0||9.5||1.0||0.4||0.0||71.0||19.7||2.3||3.7||2.3|
|14||Lending money to a student||44.2||43.2||11.2||0.6||0.4||6.6||43.6||18.7||23.4||5.8|
|15||Accepting a student's invitation to a party||14.1||34.4||38.8||10.6||2.1||3.1||20.3||11.0||44.6||20.3|
|16||Selling goods (e.g., your car or books) to a student||74.3||20.5||3.9||0.6||0.2||12.4||25.3||23.0||30.3||7.5|
|17||Being sexually attracted to a student||23.9||37.3||30.3||6.2||2.3||15.4||11.4||21.2||17.2||29.0|
|18||Teaching material you haven't really mastered||8.1||53.3||35.3||2.5||0.6||10.8||36.7||21.4||24.1||5.6|
|19||Teaching that homosexuality per se is pathological||93.4||2.1||2.5||0.2||0.6||64.3||8.3||15.8||4.4||5.4|
|20||Accepting a students inexpensive gift (worth less than $5)||13.1||41.9||36.7||5.6||2.3||4.8||24.9||8.7||42.5||17.6|
|21||Teaching a class without adequate preparation that day||7.7||51.0||37.1||3.3||0.4||8.5||41.3||17.8||26.8||4.1|
|22||Making deliberate or repeated sexual comments||99.0||1.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||94.6||0.6||0.4||0.2||3.5|
|23||Teaching while under the influence of alcohol||95.4||3.9||0.4||0.2||0.0||79.3||13.7||2.3||1.0||2.7|
|24||Engaging in sexual fantasies about a student||39.8||33.8||21.2||3.7||0.6||20.3||13.5||31.4||17.6||22.4|
|25||Helping a student file an ethics complaint against another teacher||74.9||18.7||5.2||0.4||0.0||5.0||17.2||15.4||31.5||29.5|
|26||Teaching that certain races are intellectually inferior||97.9||1.0||0.6||0.2||0.0||73.2||7.3||11.8||2.5||4.1|
|27||Encouraging students to participate in your research projects||11.0||14.5||38.2||22.6||13.3||2.9||7.1||5.2||41.7||41.7|
|28||Having students be research subjects as part of a course requirement||46.3||14.5||19.7||9.1||10.2||18.7||16.2||11.0||35.7||17.2|
|29||Accepting undeserved authorship on a student's published paper||96.7||2.9||0.0||0.0||0.0||82.4||10.8||1.0||1.2||3.3|
|30||Teaching in classes so crowded you couldn't teach effectively||43.6||32.4||18.7||2.9||1.9||16.0||32.4||28.2||15.4||5.8|
|31||Using a grading procedure which does not adequately measure what students have learned||46.1||36.7||11.4||1.9||0.6||45.2||25.3||15.8||7.3||2.5|
|32||Teaching content in a nonobjective or incomplete manner||26.6||50.6||16.8||2.3||1.5||27.6||31.7||20.3||13.5||3.3|
|33||Teaching while under the influence of cocaine or other illegal drugs||98.1||0.8||0.0||0.0||0.0||83.0||7.1||4.1||1.5||2.5|
|34||Accepting for yourself a publisher's monetary rebate for adopting their text||97.9||0.4||0.4||0.0||0.0||79.7||7.9||6.6||1.2||3.1|
|35||Accepting for your department a publisher's monetary rebate for adopting their text||95.6||1.9||0.8||0.2||0.0||71.2||10.8||10.0||3.1||2.9|
|36||Allowing a student's "likability" to influence your grading||38.6||50.4||8.9||0.8||0.0||63.3||23.4||7.1||3.1||1.7|
|37||Using profanity in lectures||30.3||47.1||17.0||2.9||0.4||14.3||35.3||19.9||21.0||6.4|
|38||Allowing students to drop courses for reasons not officially approved||40.0||39.4||14.7||1.5||0.4||16.8||37.1||17.8||19.9||4.1|
|39||Engaging in a sexual relationship with another faculty member within your department who is of the same academic rank as you||89.4||6.4||0.8||0.6||1.2||10.0||9.3||13.5||31.3||33.6|
|40||Engaging in a sexual relationship with another faculty member within your department who is of higher or lower rank than you||89.6||5.4||1.9||0.4||0.8||14.1||16.0||19.7||30.7||17.2|
|41||Inadequately supervising teaching assistants||57.1||31.5||7.1||0.8||0.0||43.2||33.2||14.1||4.1||1.7|
|42||Using school resources to prepare a scholarly textbook||58.1||14.1||14.5||6.4||4.1||5.8||11.4||12.4||29.9||37.8|
|43||Requiring students to use aversive procedures with rats, pigeons, etc.||86.7||5.8||3.5||0.8||1.0||24.3||25.1||20.1||19.1||8.3|
|44||Omitting significant information when writing a letter of recommendation for a student||37.8||43.4||15.6||1.7||0.2||25.7||43.6||15.1||11.8||1.7|
|45||Including false or misleading information when writing a letter of recommendation for a student||91.5||6.2||0.4||0.0||0.0||81.3||9.1||1.9||1.9||3.3|
|46||Teaching where there's no adequate grievance procedure for students||71.6||11.4||6.4||1.9||1.2||30.5||21.6||29.7||7.9||3.3|
|47||Grading on a strict curve regardless of class performance level||76.3||13.3||5.2||2.3||0.6||28.2||27.6||24.1||10.4||6.8|
|48||Teaching in buildings which could not accommodate physically challenged students||36.3||23.9||24.3||6.8||4.4||17.8||24.3||31.7||14.5||7.5|
|49||Using films, etc., to fill class time (and reduce your teaching work) without regard for their educational value||73.4||22.8||2.7||0.0||0.0||53.5||34.0||7.1||2.3||1.7|
|50||Telling colleagues confidential disclosures told to you by a student||62.4||33.2||2.9||0.4||0.0||52.1||36.1||3.5||4.4||2.5|
|51||Teaching in a setting lacking adequate ethnic diversity among the faculty||17.2||15.6||23.0||20.5||20.5||9.5||19.9||32.8||22.6||12.4|
|52||Teaching ethics or values to students||7.5||11.2||31.3||26.6||21.6||3.9||6.4||10.6||29.3||47.7|
|53||Failing to update lecture notes when re-teaching a course||23.7||38.8||28.6||6.2||0.8||14.5||35.3||21.4||22.2||3.5|
|54||Assigning unpaid students to carry out work for you which has little educational value for the student||71.2||22.0||4.8||0.6||0.0||49.4||33.6||8.5||5.6||1.2|
|55||Privately tutoring students in the department for a fee||98.8||0.4||0.0||0.0||0.0||45.4||19.7||17.0||11.4||4.4|
|56||Taking advantage of a student's offer such as wholesale prices at parents' store||91.7||6.8||0.4||0.0||0.0||43.8||28.6||16.4||7.3||2.3|
|57||Criticizing all theoretical orientations except those you personally prefer||62.0||27.8||6.8||1.5||0.4||47.5||23.2||12.9||9.5||4.1|
|58||Using cocaine or other illegal drugs in you personal (nonteaching) life||70.7||20.1||6.2||0.4||0.6||30.7||14.7||23.4||14.9||13.9|
|59||Insulting, ridiculing, etc., a student in the student's presence||83.2||14.7||0.6||0.2||0.0||73.4||16.2||4.4||2.1||2.1|
|60||Insulting, ridiculing, etc., a student in his or her absence||51.0||36.9||10.0||0.4||0.0||61.4||19.9||10.0||5.0||1.7|
|61||Encouraging competition among students||27.0||35.7||24.5||7.7||3.9||6.8||20.3||28.4||28.6||14.1|
|62||Ignoring unethical behavior by colleagues||21.2||46.1||24.3||3.7||0.8||36.3||35.9||16.2||6.0||1.5|
|63||Becoming sexually involved with a student only after he or she has completed your course and the grade has been filed||80.7||14.7||2.7||0.4||0.4||20.7||26.3||17.0||24.5||1.2|
a Responses 1-5 sum to less than 100% because of missing data.
b 1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = fairly often, 5 = very often
c 1 = unquestionably not, 2 = under rare circumstances, 3 = don't know/note sure 4 = under many circumstances, 5 = unquestionably yes
Responses Systematically Related to Sex and Age of Psychologist
Of the 63 behaviors queried, 37 were selected a priori to examine for differences related to sex. Because of the large number of comparisons, alpha = .001 was set as the criterion for chi-square analyses. By this criterion, statistically significant relationships between sex and rating were found for 4 of these behaviors, shown in Table 5. Men were more likely than were women to report being sexually attracted to students on at least rare occasions (93% vs. 64%, respectively). A larger proportion of men than women also reported having sexual fantasies about students at least rarely (84% vs. 39%, respectively). Becoming sexually involved with a student after the course was completed was more likely among men (26%) than women (12%), although mostly on a rare basis. Encouraging competition at least rarely was more common among male instructors (85%) than among female instructors (63%).
To examine age differences, 27 behaviors were selected a priori, using a criterion a .002. The two differences reaching statistical reliability are shown in Table 5. Psychologists over 50 years of age were more likely to report never using profanity in class (40%) than were psychologists between 36 and 50 years (29%) or under 36 years (25%). Use of illegal drugs on at least a rare basis in one's personal life decreased with age, with 40% of psychologists under 36 years reporting this behavior, decreasing to 32% among psychologists between 36 and 50 years, and to 12% among psychologists over 50 years. (Recall that about one half of the respondents were between 36 and 50 years of age.)
|Sex (p < .001)|
|17.||Being sexually attracted to a student.||104.42||4||469|
|24.||Engaging in sexual fantasies about students.||134.69||4||465|
|61.||Encouraging competition among students.||41.83||4||464|
|63.||Becoming sexually involved with a student only after he or she has completed your course and the grade has been filed.||17.13||2||465|
|Age (p < .002)|
|37.||Using profanity in lectures.||21.12||6||470|
|58.||Using cocaine or other illegal drugs in your personal (nonteaching) life.||27.28||6||472|
Log-linear analysis was used to examine both the influence of age and sex and their interaction on rating of the ethicality of three selected behaviors, using a criterion alpha = .017 for both partial and marginal tests of association (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1989). A statistically significant association was found between sex and rating of the item: "Teaching that homosexuality per se is pathological" chi-square (4, N=44)=53.11. Although 50% of the male psychologists considered this to be unquestionably unethical, 79% of the female psychologists did so. Neither Age nor the Age x Sex interaction contributed to rating of this behavior.
Rating of the ethicality of "Requiring students to use aversive procedures with rats, pigeons, etc." was also associated with sex, chi-square (6, N= 454)=25.63. This behavior was considered to be ethical at least under rare circumstances by 83% of the men but only by 69% of the women. Neither Age nor the Age x Sex interaction was associated with this rating. For the item: "Becoming sexually involved with a student," the ethicality rating was associated with neither age, sex, nor the interaction by the chosen criterion.
Relationship Between Behavior and Belief
Congruence between engaging in behaviors and beliefs about their ethicality was evaluated through the Gamma prime statistic, a test of probability of similar ranking on two indices with ordered categories. To compensate for multiple (63) analyses, criterion alpha =.0008, one-tailed test. Of the 63 behaviors, 53 reached this level, with Gamma prime ranging from .28 ("Teaching in buildings which could not accommodate physically challenged students") to .82 ("Accepting for your department a publisher's monetary reward for adopting their text").
For the 11 items that failed to reach reliable congruence, most did so because of respondents who felt the behavior to be ethical, but reported that they had not engaged in it. These items included "Using school resources to create a 'popular' psychology trade book," "Making deliberate or repeated sexual comments...," "Teaching that certain races are intellectually inferior," "Accepting undeserved authorship on a student's published paper," "Accepting for yourself a publisher's monetary rebate for adopting their text," "Engaging in a sexual relationship with another faculty member..." (both items, same or different academic rank), and "Privately tutoring students in the department for a fee."
In one instance, "Teaching while under the influence of alcohol," there were almost as many respondents who admitted to the behavior while considering it unquestionably unethical as there were those who considered it ethical but reportedly did not indulge. No discernable pattern of responses was evident for the remaining two items showing discrepancy between behavior and belief: "Teaching where there's no adequate grievance procedure for students" and "Teaching in a setting lacking adequate ethnic diversity among the faculty."
With only one exception ("allowing a student's 'likability' to influence your grading"), the frequency with which the respondents reported engaging in a behavior was less than the frequency of instances in which the behavior was ethical in their judgment. Thus, the data suggest that the psychologists' self-reported behavior was generally in accordance with their ethical beliefs.
Comparisons Between Teaching and Clinical Psychologists
Log-linear analysis was used to compare the teaching psychologists of the current study with the clinical psychologists of the prior study (Pope et al., 1987) on practice and ethicality judgments of 16 behaviors queried on both questionnaires. Three-way associations among type of psychologist, sex, and rating were examined, as well as the two-way association between type of psychologist and rating. A criterion a .001 was set for tests of partial association. As seen in Table 6, 8 of the behaviors were reported more prevalently among teachers and were more likely to be considered ethical by them. Six of the behaviors were more prevalent among clinical psychologists. As seen in Table 7, however, judgments of ethicality differed for only one of those items.
|Item||Partial χ2||df f||n||Partial χ2||df||n|
|8.||Asking small favors of student (client)||176.85||4||918||192.84||4||913|
|12.||Working while too distressed to be effective.||17.29||2||916||227.75||4||915|
|13.||Becoming sexually involved with student (client).||36.48||2||925||115.91||4||920|
|14.||Lending money to student (client).||107.07||4||920||188.87||4||914|
|15.||Attending student's (client's) party.||363.01||4||924||278.42||4||920|
|16.||Selling goods to students (clients).||57.69||5||920||420.93||4||913|
|63.||Becoming sexually involved with student (client) after class (therapy) ended.||17.31||2||919||178.06||4||917|
d Behaviors more likely to be
engaged in by teaching than by clinical psychologists.
e Behaviors less likely to be considered unethical by teaching than by clinical psychologists.
f Degrees of freedom vary because categories were collapsed when expected frequencies were too low or because of log-linear modeling algorithm.
|Item||Partial χ2||df i||n||Partial χ2||df||n|
|9.||Hugging a student (client).||38.87||4||922||ns|
|10.||Telling a student (client): "I'm sexually attracted to you."||33.13||1||919||30.08||4||918|
|17.||Being sexually attracted to a student (client).||40.82||4||911||ns|
|20.||Accepting an inexpensive gift.||21.20||4||917||ns|
|24.||Engaging in sexual fantasies about students (clients).||21.57||4||916||ns|
|25.||Helping file a complaint against a colleague.||38.01||2||894||ns|
g Behaviors more likely to
be engaged in by teaching than by clinical psychologists.
h Behaviors less likely to be considered unethical by teaching than by clinical psychologists.
i Degrees of freedom vary because categories were collapsed when expected frequencies were too low or because of log-linear modeling algorithm.
For only one of the items was a three-way association found: "Becoming sexually involved with a student (client)." A pattern of declining ratings from never to often for male and female psychologists was the general trend with the following exception. Male teaching psychologists and female clinical psychologists responded fairly often more frequently than sometimes for that behavior. Four male teachers reported sometimes becoming sexual involved with students, and 14 reported engaging in this behavior fairly often. None of the female clinicians reported engaging in such behavior sometimes, but two reported doing so fairly often.
Differences Associated With Primary Specialty Area
To assess moonlighting behavior and attitudes, the primary specialty areas were collapsed into two categories: (a) professional (including clinical, counseling, and the various forms of human factors/industrial), and (b) the remaining psychologists. A statistically significant difference in behavior was found, chi-square (4, N=476) =16.86, p < .01 . Although 25% of the professional psychologists reported "teaching full time while moonlighting at least 20 hours per week" at least rarely, only 11% of the remaining psychologist group did so. The difference in attitude between the two groups, although statistically significant, was less dramatic, chi-square(4, N= 476)= 9.76, p < .05 . Although 43% of the professional psychologists felt that such behavior was unquestionably ethical or ethical under many circumstances, only 32% of the remaining psychologists did so.
Validity and Interpretation Issues
Interpretation of these data must involve caution. First, this is an initial study and awaits attempts at replication. Second, it is unclear how the attitudes and practices of this sample of teaching psychologists compare with those of psychologists functioning as teachers who are not members of APA. Third, specific ethical standards may not be applicable to and therefore may not be endorsed by a majority of psychologists functioning as teachers. As previously noted, ethical standards can represent attempts to improve ethical awareness and behavior. Empirical data about attitudes and practices should inform rather than determine our ethical deliberations. Fourth, a few of the listed behaviors were discovered to be ambiguous. For example, "encouraging students to participate in your research projects" does not indicate whether the students' role is that of participant, assistant, or collaborator. Fifth, the same professionals rated both the frequency of their own behaviors and their judgments of the ethicality of those behaviors. There is evidence, however, that such multiple judgments do not bias the results. Borys and Pope (1989) conducted a national survey of 4,800 mental health professionals, in which one half were asked about frequency of behaviors and the other half about ethicality. Relevant results did not differ from those of research in which the same professionals made both ratings. Finally, most of the 63 items involved simple ratings of enormously complex issues.
The discussion that follows is meant only to highlight some major themes, patterns, and dilemmas emerging from these initial data, rather than to provide an exhaustive discussion of every finding. As pointed out in Footnote 1, results must be interpreted in the light of the criterion chosen for dividing those who do and those who do not report engaging in each behavior.
Behaviors That Are Almost Universal
For 3 of the 63 items, at least 90% of the respondents indicated that they had engaged in the behavior, at least on rare occasions (see Table 4). Note that two of these items involve teaching when one is not completely prepared: "teaching material you haven't really mastered" and "teaching a class without adequate preparation that day." Of course, if one teaches on a more than extremely rare basis, it is likely that life's vicissitudes will prevent a less-than-superhuman psychologist showing up for every class adequately prepared. Teaching material not completely mastered may in some cases be attributable to a department's less than ideal allocation of introductory and required courses among its faculty, or to the difficulties in keeping up with the information explosion, even in one's own specialty. Fortunately, fewer than 4% describe engaging in either behavior fairly often or very often. The third item meeting the 90% criterion for almost universal behavior was "teaching ethics or values to students." In contrast to the other two items, for this item almost one half (48%) of the respondents indicated that they engaged in the behavior fairly often or very often. The frequency and obvious significance of this behavior invite detailed follow-up research to explore which values are being taught (and which are neglected or avoided), the teaching strategies, and the degree to which efforts in this area are effective, and possible unintended or unforeseen consequences.
Behaviors That Are Rare
The most rare behavior, acknowledged by only 1% of the respondents, was sexual harassment, which was never reported on more than a rare basis. This item, "Making deliberate or repeated sexual comments, gestures, or physical contact that is unwanted by the student," was quoted verbatim from the definition provided by the Ethical Principles of Psychologists (APA, 1981), and perhaps, as worded, does not invite many admissions. One other rare item, "telling a student: 'I'm sexually attracted to you'," also concerned sexual issues. It is intriguing that respondents report disclosing sexual attraction toward a student (acknowledged on a rare basis by 7%) less frequently than they report actually becoming sexually involved with a student (11%, with 9.5% doing so only rarely).
Teaching while under the influence of alcohol (less than 1% more than rarely) or of cocaine or other illegal drugs (less than 1% ever) is rare. Few psychologists report ever teaching that certain races are intellectually inferior (2%) or that homosexuality per se is pathological (5%). Dishonesty involving including false or misleading information when writing a letter of recommendation for a student is unusual; it was reported by less than 1% more than rarely.
Allowing at least the appearance of a conflict of interest in accepting publishers' "kick-backs" is generally avoided. Fewer than 1% acknowledged ever "accepting for yourself a publisher's rebate for adopting their text," and only 3% acknowledged ever "accepting for your department" such rebates.
Although using school resources to prepare a scholarly textbook (39%) is common, those who report ever using such resources to create a "popular" psychology trade book (5%) are relatively rare. Few (8%) reported ever taking advantage of student's offer such as wholesale prices. Only 3% reported ever taking undeserved authorship credit for a student's project, and then only rarely.
We defined a difficult judgment as one in which at least 25% of the respondents indicated don't know/not sure in terms of whether the behavior was ethical. There were seven items that met this criterion. The two most difficult judgments (the only two for which more than 30% of the respondents indicated that they didn't know or weren't sure) involved de facto segregation: "teaching in a setting lacking adequate ethnic diversity" and "teaching in buildings which could not accommodate physically challenged students."
Two difficult items concerned either external or personal barriers to effective teaching: "teaching in classes so crowded you couldn't teach effectively" and "teaching when too distressed to be effective."
Whether encouraging competition among students, selling unwanted complimentary textbooks to used book vendors, and teaching in an institution that does not have adequate grievance procedures, are ethical were also difficult judgments for respondents to make.
We defined a controversial item as one in which the ethical judgments were so diverse that the SD > 1.25. Ten items met this criterion.
It is intriguing that one half of these controversial items concerned sexual thoughts or behavior: "being sexually attracted to students," "engaging in sexual fantasies about students," "engaging in a sexual relationship with another faculty member within your department of the same academic rank as you," "engaging in a sexual relationship with another faculty member within your department who is of a higher or lower rank than you," and "becoming sexually involved with a student only after he or she has completed your course and the grade has been filed."
Of the remaining controversial behavior items, two ("requiring students to use aversive procedures with rats, pigeons, etc." and "selling unwanted complimentary textbooks to used book vendors") were also difficult judgments.
Although slightly more than one half (53%) of the respondents believed that "having students be research subjects as part of a course requirement" was either unquestionably ethical or ethical under many circumstances, a sizable minority (35%) believed that it was either never or only rarely ethical.
There was a relatively narrow gap between those who believed that "giving academic credit instead of salary for student assistants" was clearly ethical or ethical under many circumstances (47%) and those who believed that it was never or rarely ethical (37%).
"Using cocaine or other illegal drugs in your personal (nonteaching) life" was judged unethical or ethical only under rare circumstances by 45% but unquestionably ethical or ethical under many circumstances by 29%.
Comment on Selected Issues Bending the rules for selected students
The importance of objective grading procedures versus the frailties of human nature was perhaps most apparent in the finding that a student's likability could influence assigned grades. Note that two thirds of the respondents believed such actions to be unquestionably unethical, but two thirds also report having given in to such influences on at least rare occasions. More than one half of the respondents have allowed students to drop courses for reasons not officially approved on at least a rare basis, and more than one half saw this act as generally unethical. Similarly, more than one half of the respondents report having omitted significant information when writing a letter of recommendation at least rarely, and two thirds of the respondents view that behavior as generally unethical. These are instances of, perhaps, conflicting loyalties; helping out someone who is judged to be deserving of it versus objectivity in maintaining the standards one knows are important to uphold in order for the system to work properly. Or perhaps there is a conflict between endorsement of general rules of behavior versus application of those rules to those one knows.
Including false or misleading information in a recommendation letter, however, appears to be clearly unacceptable. Only a small percentage of respondents report having done that, and 90% believe such behavior to be unethical.
Little boundary blurrings
Clinical practitioners are admonished to keep the professional role paramount and to resist any temptation or opportunity to interact with a client in other roles (Bory s & Pope, 1989; Pope, 1991; Pope & Vasquez, 1998). Boundary violations are viewed as compromising the objectivity necessary to provide competent services, as well as increasing the potential for exploitation and violations of trust. Students and professors also compose a sensitive dyad in that the professor has the power to influence students' lives in a number of significant ways, thus "students" are also explicitly included in the portion of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists that admonishes psychologists to avoid dual role relationships (Principle 5d, APA, 1990).
Student and professor groups, however, are encouraged to spend time together in a variety of contexts, thus making boundary crossing difficult to avoid. Sometimes, what with so many social and other types of activities available to both students and faculty on and off campus, boundary blurring seems practically built into the academic system.
Accepting invitations to students' parties is a common phenomenon among teaching psychologists, and less than a quarter of the sample saw any ethical problems with this activity. Similarly, asking small favors from students was also commonly reported, although more than one third of the respondents believed that this was generally unethical. More than one half of the respondents reported having loaned money to students at least rarely, and most saw no ethical problems if it was done only under rare circumstances. Finally, one fourth of the respondents reported selling goods (such as books or a car) to students on at least rare occasions, with no consensus emerging as to the ethicality of this behavior. Most of these activities, as we would have predicted, occur much more frequently among students and professors than among clients and therapists (see Table 6).
Gossip and betrayal of student confidences
Relatively few respondents reported ever having insulted or ridiculed a student directly to his or her face, although almost one half reported having engaged in such behavior in the students' absence. Hefty majorities believe, however, that the act in neither context constitutes ethical behavior. Similarly, more than one third admitted having relayed confidential disclosures made by students to colleagues (mostly only rarely), although, again, the vast majority believed this to be unethical (see also Principle 5, preamble, Ethical Principles of Psychologists, APA, 1990). Thus, although behavior that might embarrass or violate the trust of a student happens often enough (usually without the students' awareness), the perpetrators also admit to knowing better.
Willingness to stand up to wrongdoings
Dealing with the cheating student or unethical colleague is not relished by anyone. Such situations are inherently distasteful, not to mention anxiety-provoking, painful, and even frightening to confront.
About one fourth of the respondents reported having assisted students with the filing of a complaint against another teacher, mostly only rarely. It is impossible to ascertain from our data if the others had failed to engage in that act because the opportunity never presented itself. It was distressing to learn, however, that one fifth of the respondents reported they had, at least on rare occasions, ignored strong evidence of student cheating, and 79% had ignored unethical behavior by colleagues. It would be of great interest to know more about the barriers or circumstances that account for turning away from the ethical responsibility to be actively involved in the monitoring of ethical behavior of colleagues and students (see Principle 7g of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists, APA, 1990).
Sexual relations with students and other faculty
The sexualization of psychologists' professional relationships with those whom they serve-as teachers, as therapists, as supervisors, as assessment specialists, and so forth-has been a problematic one for the profession. Some maintain that neither the law nor the APA can legitimately hinder the right to free association (including the right to define that association as sexual) of two consenting adults, whether they be teacher and student, employer and employee, therapist and patient, or assessment specialist and job candidate. Others express concern that the sexualization of professional relationships may cause a variety of negative consequences including the erosion of the objectivity necessary for professional tasks (Glaser & Thorpe, 1986; Pope, 1989 ; Pope, 1990a, 1990b; Pope, Levenson, & Schover, 1979; Pope & Vasquez, 1998; Robinson & Reid, 1985). For example, teachers must assume the role of evaluator (APA, 1979 ; Pope, Schover, & Levenson, 1980).
Sexual attraction toward and sexual fantasies about students were reported to occur in the majority of the respondents, although less frequently by the women and at less frequent rates than those of therapists toward their clients (Pope, Keith-Spiegel, & Tabachnick, 1986 ; Pope et al., 1987). Smaller percentages of respondents reported having disclosed feelings of sexual attraction, dated, or had sexual relations with current or former students. When sexual feelings toward students are acted upon, the majority of the respondents believed that this constituted an ethical problem.
Despite the fact that sexual relations among colleagues may raise ethical issues because of power differentials and political intrigues, they were viewed differently than was sexual activity between teacher and student. Only about 1 in 10 respondents reported engaging in a sexual relation with a colleague of the same academic rank or of a different academic rank, and sexual involvement with a colleague of the same rank was viewed as less ethically objectionable. Generally, however, the respondents did not believe that sexual relations among colleagues was an ethical problem.
Hugging students may, of course, be sexual or nonsexual in nature (and, not infrequently, the two participants may interpret that nature differently). The majority of the respondents reported hugging students at least on occasion, which is still significantly less than therapists hug their clients (see Table 7). There was no consensus among respondents on the ethics of hugging students.
Those of us who are devoted to teaching may be justifiably skeptical of some external efforts to regulate what and how we teach. And yet this skepticism may have hindered valuable processes of ethical self-examination and accountability of the sort we wish to model for and encourage in our students. A crucial aspect of the maturation and moral development of any profession is the collective openness and dedication of its membership to study and critically examine itself.
Psychology has a rich tradition of empirical research and respect for systematically collected data. It is time for us to bring the strengths, strategies, rigorous discipline, and persistent inquisitiveness of that tradition to bear on our own behavior and beliefs as teachers
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Footnote #1: In reporting this and subsequent findings, we frequently differentiate responses of never from all of the remaining responses. It is important to emphasize that non-never categories may include many respondents who seldom engage in a behavior (perhaps once, a long time ago). We have attempted to point out behaviors for which the preponderance of non-never responses is rarely, and to use other criteria for differentiating responses when deemed appropriate. In general, we use the criterion that we feel best characterizes the reported behavior of our respondents and their likely interpretation of the question, and attempt to make explicit in each case the cutoff used. Nevertheless, caution is necessary in interpretation of all percentages reported. (Back to body of article.)