In my column last month, I wrote about some of the ethical issues with student evaluations of teaching (SET), using Quinn’s competing values model. Among my top concerns are serious and documented validity issues with SET instruments, as well as how external stakeholders may use SET data as a big stick to weed out faculty who offer unpopular or controversial viewpoints, or who may be judged as ineffective based on this single (mostly invalid) instrument. In this column, I want to talk more about the “now what?” aspect of SETs.
Long before the Ethicist Blog and the Ethics of Research and Publishing Video Series, the Academy’s voice of ethics was embodied in John E. Fleming, Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California. John was a long-time member of the AOM Ethics Committee and a regular contributor to the Academy of Management Newsletter. John contributed articles about ethics that translated ethics experiences in academe to include vignettes on research, professional life and teaching, much like the topical areas found on the Ethicist Blog. He recognized that being able to articulate our core shared professional values further builds our ethical culture. Sadly, John Fleming passed away on February 2, 2014 and while he leaves behind his loving family and many colleagues and friends, his words and contributions about ethics will remain in the Academy’s memory. You can read John’s full obituary in the March 2014 edition of AcadeMY News.
In honor of John Fleming’s memory, we’d like to share one of his later contributions to the Ethics Column.
By John E. Fleming, Emeritus Professor, University of Southern California; Member of the AOM Ethics Committee (Originally published October 2006 AOM Newsletter)
This column deals with the Introduction, the Preamble, and both the General and Professional Principles in the first part of the Academy’s revised Code of Ethics. I suspect that you are finding in your reading of the Code that it is a very complete professional document that requires diligent study and thoughtful application. But there are also a number of important surprises along the way.
The most interesting thing that I have found in my study of this first part of the code is the emphasis that it places on the need for the very highest levels of professional ethics. If we think of ethics as dealing with relationships between people, the Code requires that such relationships exist at the highest ethical level. On the first page of the Code in the Introduction this is stated very clearly: “The Preamble, General Principles, and Professional Principles set forth aspirational goals to guide AOM members toward the highest ideals of research, teaching practice, and service.”
In this column, I want to examine the thorny and multi-dimensional ethical issues around student evaluations of teaching (SET). Using Quinn’s Competing Values framework to guide the conversation, I look at who uses SETs, who wants to use them, and ethical issues of context, competing concerns, and most saliently, validity problems. I also consider how we use SET data—whether formatively or summatively—and what process assurances we may owe our colleagues to improve their teaching practice. I finish with a brief conversation with Gustavus’ Associate Provost and Dean Darrin Good, who is heading up our SET modification effort, and as usual, some discussion questions.
Columnist: Lorraine Eden, Visiting Professor (The Ohio State University) and Professor (Texas A&M University), firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: October 28, 2013
KEY INSIGHT: Seeing a journal article with the word “RETRACTION” written in diagonal watermark across the front page is probably a shock to most management and business scholars. Not only is the percentage of articles withdrawn from publication across all disciplines very small (the estimate is less than .02% per year), the number of retracted articles in business and management journals is small relative to those in, for example, biomedical journals. Recently, however, a number of our well-known journals including Journal of Management Studies, Organization Science and Strategic Management Journal – even the Journal of Business Ethics! — have posted retraction notices. Why are articles retracted? I discuss the various categories of article retraction, look at retraction in the context of business and management journals, provide examples of retraction categories, and end with questions for discussion.
Key Insight: Bob Giacalone and Mark Promislo co-authored an article in the most recent Academy of Management Learning & Education, entitled, “Broken when Entering: The Stigmatization of Goodness and Business Ethics Education.” In this month’s column, I first react to their work, and then share some of my conversation with Bob about the article. I also fielded some reactions from Kabrina Krebel Chang of Boston University, who is directing the School of Management’s comprehensive new ethics education effort.
Your professional life correspondent took a literary nap that let April pass without a post. My apologies to the Ethicist, to my fellow correspondents, and to our (growing) readership. I’ve wandered back to town, trimmed the beard, and found quill, ink and parchment. In other words, the semester’s teaching is done. Now to this (last) month’s topic.
A Great Paper from “Outsiders”
I’ll get to the topic momentarily, but first a vignette about an article. My research interests include issues related to international business (“IB”), that is, issues about multinational firms and cross-border transactions. So I am a faithful reader and occasional contributor to the Journal of International Business Studies (“JIBS”). A relatively recent JIBS article is also one of my favorites. It’s a 2010 article by Nathan Jensen, Quan Li and Aminur Rahman about apparently unaddressed challenges associated with using data from certain cross-national firm-level surveys popular with IB and related management scholars (Jensen, N., Li, Q., & Rahman, A. 2010. Understanding corruption and firm responses in cross-national firm-level surveys. Journal of International Business Studies, 41: 1481-1504). Jensen, Li and Rahman develop and test a theory of under-response and false response biasing measures derived from those cross-national surveys, which ask questions about bribery and corruption faced by local businesses.
Here’s their theory in brief. Individuals from firms in politically-repressive countries are less likely to respond at all or respond truthfully to questions about bribery and corruption. Respondents in those countries fear that their response will get back to the local mayor, chief of police or party official shaking them down for a “contribution” important to continued business survival and success. Better either to not respond or respond that there’s little or no bribery or corruption. Here’s their evidence in brief. Non-response rates in a prominent cross-country survey by the World Bank increase with lower levels of press freedom in a given country. False report rates also increase with less press freedom. Respondents tell the World Bank surveyor that corruption isn’t as severe as alternative non-survey measures indicate. The end result is that some of the most frequently used survey data on bribery, corruption and related cross-country business issues (e.g., quality of the business environment) are biased. At a minimum, there are important adjustments for researchers to make if using these survey data. Most haven’t, so publications based on such “evidence” merit renewed scrutiny and revision.
Jensen, Li and Rahman might not be familiar names in IB and management journals. Jensen and Li are political scientists, and quite productive researchers in journals within the political science field. Rahman is an economist at the World Bank. They’re not rank-and-file management faculty in a business school regularly attending the Academy of Management meetings. They’re “outsiders” who crossed disciplinary and professional boundaries to submit, revise and publish provocative research with a stinging critique of an empirical research stream in our field. Way to go.
Why doesn’t this happen more often? The answer is tribalism. Finally, my topic for the blog.
There is more than a little tribalism in the Academy. By tribalism, I mean that researchers in one discipline have a tendency to ignore much of the work on a common topic of interest another group of scholars are addressing in another discipline. Maybe it’s research and researchers in psychology and management asking common questions about why individuals and firms escalate commitments in an apparently irrational way. Maybe it’s research and researchers in law and political science asking common questions about constitutions and the quality of government. In any case, we tend to look inward at our disciplinary “tribe” for reference regarding which scholars, ideas and publications are relevant for a given topic of discussion and debate. We look less often, if at all, outside our field for insight on the same topic. Discipline-based professional associations, conferences and journals reinforce this inward-looking tendency. I’ll admit that we need some tribal lines in order to define intellectually-distinct fields, set professional standards and qualifications, and more generally bring order to what is and isn’t immediately relevant to our work. That aside, though, the inward-looking trope is probably not a good thing. Tribalism raises barriers. It limits outside voices in discussion and debate. It leads to intra-disciplinary navel-gazing.
Crossing Tribal Lines: Individually and Collectively
There are things we can do as individuals and as a groups to deal with some of tribalism’s negatives. Individually, it’s possible to look outside many ways. Offer a class with a cross-listing in another department (good) or in another college (even better). Serve on a masters or doctoral thesis committee in another field dealing with a research topic that overlaps with your own interests. Attend, serve on a panel, submit and present research in progress at a professional meeting in another disciplinary field –economics, political science, engineering, sociology, law.
Of course, published scholarly research is foundational to career development in research universities. So submitting to, revising and, ultimately, publishing in high-quality journals outside your primary field constitutes a strong blow against tribalism. But it’s difficult. Tribalism has some strong defenders, and as I noted earlier, their defense is sometimes justified, and often well-meaning. For researchers looking to cross lines, the barriers put up by their own tribe can be substantial. The range of acceptably “high-quality” journals is almost always longer within your disciplinary field (tribe) than it is in almost any other field. That’s usually because we know less than we think about those other fields. In my Department of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management, there is no list of high-quality journals in management. (I guess we’re supposed to just know what they are.) I recently asked an SME colleague what s/he thought was a high-quality journal in political science. S/he spent a few seconds thinking, and then told me, “I know, I know. Journal of Political Economy.” Nice try. Tribal defenders may have a very short written or mental list of outside journals that “count” for tenure and promotion purposes. That can be a pretty strong deterrent to crossing lines for research and journal publication outside your primary field. That helps me understand why articles by the Jensen, Li and Rahman’s of this world are infrequent.
Collectively, there are other initiatives worth thinking about to combat tribalism. I’ve mentioned some teaching and service initiatives for individuals to consider. Commendation of (or at least indifference to) such efforts from departmental faculty colleagues, departmental chairs, and college deans would be helpful. Research-wise, I can think of few more important individuals to fight tribalism for the rest of us than journal editors. It was not an accident that Jensen, Li and Rahman submitted their manuscript to JIBS. Their submission followed presentation of the paper at an inter-disciplinary conference with editorial team members from JIBS in attendance. No doubt, they received encouragement to go further and submit the paper to the journal for review. The JIBS editor-in-chief at the time made it part of her mission to attend and speak at conferences outside IB and management. I attended a political science conference where she gave one of those speeches. She emphasized the inter-disciplinary nature of the journal and its openness to research submissions from other disciplines. Such efforts to fight tribalism paid off with more submissions from scholars outside the IB and management rank and file, and more notice of (and citation to) JIBS articles. I am pretty sure the outside submissions got just as tough a review as rank-and-file submitters. I noted three revisions over more than a year for the Jensen, Li and Rahman article. It was no quick hit. Tough, constructive reviews from JIBS editorial board members likely made the article better for an intended audience that begins with IB and management scholars but goes beyond that to others outside our tribe.
How often does that happen at other journals?
Your Tribe, But Also Your Career
As I said earlier, some tribalism is inevitable and not unwelcome. For doctoral students and junior faculty striving to develop a research agenda and reputation, tribal lines help. Early in a career, the lines help us understand which people, institutions, conferences and publication outlets will support that agenda and recognize that growing reputation sooner. But an academic career isn’t always so instrumentally driven. We are lucky. We get paid to find interesting intellectual debates, learn the issues guiding it, and then weigh in with sound thinking grounded in rigorous theory and broad-based evidence. As careers develop, maybe the location of those debates should matter a little less. If they are outside your department or college, go forth and weigh in. Push that further. Find those outside debates, weigh in, and then translate their implications for others in our home department and college –our tribe. Prompt colleagues down the hall to look outward rather than inward.
Why not? Strike a blow against tribalism. And enrich your career.
Please address your comments to:
Paul M. Vaaler
Department of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship
Carlson School of Management
University of Minnesota
321 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Tel (612) 625-4951
Fax (612) 626-1316
Key Insight: With a host of significant external forces pushing for change in academic institutions, the entire enterprise of teaching and learning has come under the microscope. Long-established and widespread teaching practices are increasingly considered obsolete in terms of adding clear value to students’ collegiate learning experience. In this column I explore some of those key forces, and the ethical ramifications of compelling changes we must make in teaching and learning. Specifically, I want to talk about what those changes mean for adding value to students’ college experience, and the way we must help our colleagues re-imagine and re-tool their teaching practice. In rethinking what “college” means, professors can remain compellingly relevant to students’ learning and college experience.
With the February 2013 blog post on “Ethics in Research Scenarios: What Would YOU Do?”, The Ethicist has now published two dozen blogs on three areas of ethics that affect not only AOM members, but all members of the scholarly professions: research, teaching and professional life. Links to each of these posts are provided below, together with a downloadable one-page PDF for printing and circulation. Enjoy!
KEY INSIGHT: James Davis and Susan Madsen (former co-chairs of AOM’s Ethics Education Committee (EEC)) have developed four ethics in research scenarios, which they, EEC members and journal editors have taught to multiple doctoral consortia at the AOM annual meetings since 2008. In this blog posting, Jim and Susan introduce their scenarios. A short annotated list of internet resources on teaching research ethics follows. We hope that these resources will stimulate discussion about research ethics among the faculty and doctoral students at your institution. The Ethicist has migrated from AOM Connect and “gone public”; the blog is freely available for reading and download at http://ethicist.aom.org/. Comments are welcome, and you are encouraged to circulate this blog posting (and earlier ones) to your colleagues and students.
It may sound like a silly question. Or maybe it sounds like a question on the final exam of some first-year law student’s Contracts course –often another forum for silliness. But it’s not so silly when you receive a phone call, email or letter from some departmental, college or university official asking you to move across the country or across the world to take a new job. And it’s not so silly when you are on the other end of that transaction doing the asking –some might say wooing— to get a would-be colleague to move across the country or world.
Offers and acceptances are part of everyday life, so we tend to think that we know them when hear, read one and or write them. But it might be a little more complicated when it comes to a job-offer, especially when the job is for a senior faculty position with tenure. And some of the complications have, I think, substantial ethical dimensions. Even if the job-offer doesn’t include tenure, there are some less-than-obvious process issues worth thinking about so that academics on both sides of the prospective transaction do the right thing. So let me start the new calendar year with my own take on some ethical issues associated with job-offers in academia: what they should include; how they should be conveyed; what contingencies might render a “job offer” moot; and how to respond to contingent and non-contingent offers so that you are fair to both your current and prospective future institution.