Student abuse by faculty

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, lately, which in part accounts for my relative silence over the past few weeks. However, in the course of traveling, I keep coming across a set of similar stories, from throughout the world, although principally from developing countries, in particular, China and those in Africa.

The stories tend to be similar, in terms of exploitation of doctoral or junior faculty members, and go like this:

“At our university, the senior faculty insist that their names go first on every paper I produce, even those that they have not contributed to, in any way”.


“At our university, doctoral students do all the data collection analysis, and writing, but our names are never put on the paper – only that of the senior faculty”.

When I hear these stories, as both a scholar and an editor, I am outraged.  How is it that faculty members can openly exploit students and junior scholars is such a blatant fashion?  Why is it that no professional organization exists to come to their defense? Unfortunately, we are collectively partially responsible, as the publish or perish norms and intense competition that we have helped develop only exacerbates this problem.  It is, after all, a collective problem.

Of course, the exploitation of students is not entirely new. The recent movie “the Stanford Prison Experiment” shows the extent to which Lombardo went during his study, and the expense those participants must have paid.  Zimbardo, then an ambitious recently tenured scholar, was a consultant on the film, and it reportedly accurately reflects what took place. His subsequent work was devoted to more pristine socially progressive causes, such as understanding shyness. No surprise there…

Our code of ethics does address these issues, although not as directly as one might think. For example, on the aspiration side, with regard to integrity:

  1. Integrity

AOM members seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of their profession. In these activities AOM members do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact. They strive to keep their promises, to avoid unwise or unclear commitments, and to reach for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and practice. They treat students, colleagues, research subjects, and clients with respect, dignity, fairness, and caring. They accurately and fairly represent their areas and degrees of expertise.

Regarding specifically students:

  1. To our students. Relationships with students require respect, fairness, and caring, along with commitment to our subject matter and to teaching excellence. We accomplish these aims by:

Showing respect for students. It is the duty of AOM members who are educators to show appropriate

respect for students’ feelings, interests, needs, contributions, intellectual freedom, and rights to

privacy.  Maintaining objectivity and fairness. It is the duty of AOM members who are educators to treat  students equitably. Impartiality, objectivity, and fairness are required in all dealings with students.

1.6. Exploitative Relationships: AOM members do not exploit persons over whom they have evaluative or other authority, such as authors, job seekers, or student members.

And finally,

4.2.2. Authorship Credit AOM members ensure that authorship and other publication credits are based on the scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved. AOM members take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they

have actually performed or to which they have contributed. AOM members usually list a student as principal author on multiply authored publications that  substantially derive from the student s dissertation or thesis.

I underlined the word “usually” under I assume that the exception referred to are situations where the student would not be listed as principal author, but would be listed as co-author (although what these would be, and why they would be exceptions, is a bit of a mystery to me). However, it appears that from the perspective of some of our international members, this ‘exception’ may leave open the interpretation that a scholar may occasionally NOT cite a student as co-author, even when they are  a principal author. Further, and unfortunately, there is no mention of adding authorship to work where the scholar did NOT make a contribution (although does seem to imply that such a deed would not be welcome).

So, what can we do collectively to eradicate this practice of exploitive advising? How can we get the message across different cultures and institutions that when an author submits a paper, the assumption by the editor – indeed, the social contract – ensures that an appropriate amount of work has been conducted by that author reflecting the order of authorship? Further, perhaps it is time our code of ethics become a bit more specific regarding some of these practices, in order to make it explicitly clear that exploitation of any sort is unwelcome in our profession.