The press coverage lately have been filled with reports on ethical lapses in businesses, government, religion, science and educational institutions and is astonishingly on the rise day by day that one is forced to think if its all really true or whether the media is exaggerating or not. With the modern day pressure in the workforce, even the most well intentioned worker can be swept away from his ethical principles and compromise it in order to gain quick results. Unfortunately, some people fall victim to their temptations more easily than others causing irreparable damage to the business and to the very foundations of society's moral fabric.
Herein lies the pivotal role played by universities, colleges and schools which supply a majority of the professional workforce, in building their ethical principles and foundations. Imparting and emphasizing on educating about proper values, attitudes and integrity should be an inseparable function of higher education
However, several universities continue to place excessive importance on acquiring practical and professional skills alone and confine other personal characteristics such as ethics to the background. A Business major student today utilizes about 95% of college time in acquiring knowledge on techniques for maximizing wealth. In a time where educational institutions need to come to the forefront and play an active role in cultivating ethical culture, what we see is infact rather distressing. Studies prove that on an average, most of the colleges allocate just half a semester course for teaching ethics. Researches have even revealed a connection between the level of academic cheating and a country's corruption index. (Magnus et al. 2002)
This paper firstly deals with the general aspects of student ethics and factors affecting student lives and then goes into a specific study objective of how certain personal characteristics relate to ethical scale of the students. The findings are used to formulate implementable strategies useful to educational institutions.
Ethical Issues and Relationships of Student life
Students during their academic life is likely to face many incidents where is rational thinking and moral principles are put to test. In a normal academic setting the student is not alone but instead, surrounded by many relationships that he has to maintain with due respect. This can be the relation between peers, towards the instructors, the learning process or towards the educational institution itself. This part of the paper examines the different ethical situations and their causes faced by the students and their causes as outlined in literatures and through personal experience.
a. The student-student relationship:
Collaboration or Collusion? The relation between students is not always based on friendship, but could go to some incentives one could feel for another, especially if one side is an intelligent student with a high GPA. As seen in university campus, a student would try to make a "relation" with another and it becomes stronger near the exam times and the submission of papers and home works. This may be named as "collaboration" if the home works and the papers are supposed to be done in teams, but if it's not and is supposed to be done individually and both replicate and produce the same content, it then becomes "collusion", which is unethical and is not allowed to be done in academic work.
Intentional Misinformation and Manipulation: Some students have a habit of intentionally giving misrepresented or incomplete information to others in order to deliberately mislead them from taking the right path. For instance, it could be giving the wrong information on chapters for the exam or an incomplete explanation to a certain doubt etc. Students would also ask another student who they think takes a very good notes in class when the time of the exam had come near, and would ask to just borrow it for one day and would copy it and return it back, but sometimes the real owner might never see it again, or would find that the student who had borrowed it had spread the notes to a lot of students without his/her acknowledgment.
Collaborative Cheating during Examinations: During exams, friends tend to sit together in nearby seats and co-operate with each other during exams, especially if it is objective questions rather than subjective. They might even resort to technology such as Bluetooth earpieces and text messaging or even carrying small chits of papers with information written on it or saved in their digital diaries. Surprisingly studies show that majority of these behaviors have mostly been unobservable.
Intimidation & Bullying: Many a time we find prejudices against student depending on their nationality, family name (clan), and social class. Students would treat them either badly or with great respect and idolism, depending on where they stand. Some of them would even get bullied at because of some issues. That is mostly related to the dress code they are following. These days, students would get more respect if they were wearing high class, brand names cloth. The student would feel more confident if he does so and would feel that he/ she had become part of the society. This issue is less found in High schools as there is a uniform dress code that the students has to follow and so less bullying in that issue is rare.
Negative Peer Pressure: Some students are forced to resort to bad behaviors and practices due to excessive peer pressure and in order to stay in tune with their peers and not be left out. Such behaviors would include acts like smoking, drinking or drug abuse. In an era where these are easily reachable, it is hard for pressured students to not give into these temptations. This can have ill effect on their academics as well as social circle.
b. Students & the Learning Process:
Clay P. Bedford rightly said "You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives". Learning theory can be described as a principle that is supported by psychologists and educators to show how people can acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes. That theory differs between the generations. In the past, most people were learning to educate themselves to get knowledge and information to benefit from it and pass it on to others; however, unfortunately nowadays most students learn and attend schools and colleges to get the degree and not the knowledge.
Make it Simple Please!: Who should assume more role in the education process- the professor or the student? This question of entitlement has been scrutinized recently in different contexts in the educational circles. Administrators and faculty have noticed that lately the students want everything the easy way by always exerting that knowledge should be acquired with minimal effort on the part of the student. They have increasingly been found to wanting to be entertained and feeling comfortable in classes rather than their effort towards learning. They also demand to be awarded higher grades for simply attending classes. What we see here is the student taking on a passive learning attitude while the faculty has to take the entire responsibility for the students learning process.
Plagiarism: Like multinational corporations outsourcing administrative duties, today's students seem to willing to outsource their academic work. The internet is the best place for downloading data and the most widespread form of cheating that takes place today. An engineering student wants a paper on Robotics, a philosophy major needs one on Euthyphro, while a Business student needs a paper on Project management. All these students are aware of the existence of essay mills which have these days become very sophisticated and globalized with the advancement of technology and file sharing protocols. Previously these essay mills were found near colleges and bookstores housed by former students. Now these are all online and one can find a paper written by anyone around the world by amateurs or professionals.
Class Cutting: In earlier times cutting a class was an unimaginable heinous deed. However these days class cutting is not a rare or unimaginable event. Many students these days do so to avoid classes they do not like or cannot follow or is too hard for them to grasp for which they are not well prepared or to avoid professors who they dislike . It can even be a variety of other reasons or even genuine personal reasons. This is in fact a greasy slope, once started, there is no turning back on the academic damage it results in as they tend to miss many critical pieces of information required to continue and also might be welcomed back by a cold faced professor who is already overburdened. Ultimately, the short term relief gained by cutting classes leads to complicated situations leading to greater stress due to academic intricacies.
c. Student - Teacher Relationship:
Disruptive & Discourteous Behavior during Class: Some students are very distracted during class. Such students may engage in uncivil classroom behaviors which characteristically represent rude and disrespectful behavior towards the professor and colleagues. Their activities could include acts such as disruptive conversations with their bench mates, making an unceremonious and rude exit in the middle of the class, text messaging or chatting, pride in coming in late to the class, reading something else than the class subject. All this shows disrespect for the instructor as well as others present in the class and adversely affect the academic process within the classroom.
Prejudice: It is not rare to find students who are very much prejudiced against the professors. Some students prefer to take classes with professors who are from a certain ethnicity and not from others. For instance there is a notion among students that Asian professors are tougher and more demanding than Western professors. Some students even treat the professors differently according to their nationality as sometimes the students themselves feel superior to the teachers because of their race. This is strictly unethical in an academic setting.
The Medical Excuse: Many students, either due to laziness or excessive stressing or even unpreparedness would like to buy some time and put away their immediate exams. Since almost all of the universities demand a valid medical certificate for such absences if the test or exam is to be retaken, students attempt to get fake medical reports and excuses. This practice has been increasing lately and is not justifiable and unfair to those students who take the exam the same day. This is unethical in all senses unless there occurs a genuine medical reason.
d. Students- Educational Institution:
Institutional Property & Facilities: An important issue facing universities and other educational institutions is cleanliness. If you take a tour around the school and university you can observe that there are many destroyed and disfigured furniture filled with scribbling and scratching and walls filled with drawings with spray paint. Besides that, one can find chewed bubblegum stuck under tables and chairs making it dirty as well as able to transfer germs. In addition, keeping seating areas unclean by leaving food at table and chair is also an very common sight these days. This is another uncivilized act because if everyone clean his/her place before he/she leaves the area, it will remain clean.
Behavior Towards other staff: Many students tend to behave selectively; they mistreat or disrespect the other staff such as the administrative or the cleaning staff. This can be due to a feeling of superiority that is caused by thinking that they are here to serve the students or it can simply be due to bad upbringing.
General Causes for Unethical Behaviors among Students
Attitude towards disruptive conduct: Attitude is one of the most obvious factor which affect the ethical perspective of a student. Compared to olden times, present day students are more isolated from the society as they tend to have both working parents living a hectic life and as a result they develop their world views and behavioral aspects in conjunction with their peers rather than their parents or adult supervision resulting in development of different views of students compared to adults. Added to this is isolation is the use of communication tools such as the email, laptops and chat rooms which provide them with no if at all few indications of the real social world interactions. These students may thus see nothing erroneous in behaving in certain manners that others see as disruptive. Similarly those students who nurture this kind of attitude are the ones most likely to engage in those acts. The attitude is such that , If i can download music for free , what's the problem in downloading ideas?
Victims of Consumerist Culture: With the advent of globalization and creation of materialistic culture, even education started to be viewed through consumerist glasses. Today the main purpose of education for many seems to be economic, particularly to increase the earning potential or wealth. Such consumerist students might also tend to be fortified with the consumer oriented idea giving them a feeling that they have the right to do anything in the college including disruptive acts as they have paid for the educational service.
Self Absorption or Narcissism: Some students are always preoccupied by their self and do not empathize with the needs or feelings of others. In fact they tend to find it almost impossible to see others difficulty regarding how their misconduct affects their colleagues. These are students who always expect a favorable treatment and cannot tolerate any kind of criticisms. In an academic setting where people are evaluated constantly through give and take of knowledge and ideas, such students fail to cope up and tend to display disruptive behavior.
Incomplete knowledge: Not always plagiarism is committed intentionally. Sometimes it's a misinformation or incomplete knowledge on the part of the student regarding proper citation methods that can lead to a paper being marked as plagiarized.
Extensive Pressure & Expectation: Extensive pressure and expectations from the family, peers and tight competition in the marketplace is a very common reason why students commit academic fraud in order to pace ahead than others in their academic lives.
Easy Way Out: Sometimes the students are just too lazy to put in the effort or consider themselves incapable of absorbing the knowledge hence they look for the easy way out like using cribs, technology or other unethical means. For such students, they would almost always find that the benefits of cheating exceed the costs.
No strict Institutional Code of Ethics: Almost all universities have a strict moral code of ethics, but the issue lies in if these codes are strictly implemented and non adherers are punished accordingly or not. Lack of remedial action is a thriving place for unethical behaviors in academia
Specific Objective of the Study & Methodology
Is there a relationship between certain aspects of the personality of the student and his level of ethics- identifying the relationship, if there exists, was the main purpose of this study. This was done through a survey instrument that had certain questions regarding certain personal characteristics variables like competitiveness, age and major of study and to what degree these factors affect the level of ethics. The survey was conducted among 65 students majority from the business college ranging from all years from freshman to seniors utilizing a random sample. By analyzing the survey responses, we have tried to use these results and findings to formulate strategies that we believe will be useful to academicians to advance the level of ethics among students
The study mainly focuses on three different characteristics namely: competitiveness, age and major of study.
Individual competitiveness characteristic is the personal desire of a person to outperform his/her peers. There can be several motivational factors behind this behavior or perception. Some examples can be intense pressure from family to excel or it can be high expectations on the student by peers and faculty, also high academic standing perceived as a breakthrough to the highly competitive job markets on graduation contributes to pressurizing the student. Sometimes the student may be on academic warning, or on scholarship and hence has to maintain a minimum grade point averages in order to continue, also students who opt for higher education at top notch schools etc forces or compels the students to compromise on their ethical values to attain their end target. Studies have inferred that with the commencement of college years students undergo an increase in demands placed on their academic skills contributing to stress which in turn leads to resortment to cheating, plagiarism and other unethical behaviors. (Chrismer 1998).
Our survey instrument had eight statements which were used to measure competitiveness such as "I will do anything to win". Almost 72 % of the students surveyed strongly agreed to majority of these characteristics and we were able to discern that out of them, a strong 80 % had been involved in dishonest academic practices earlier. While 10% of the students disagreed with majority of the situations, just 6% took a neutral stance in most of them. The above 72 % were categorized as highly competitive people who were aggressive achievers wile 12% of them were categorized as mild and the remaining 16% were considered near zero or nil competition, achievements didn't matter much to them.
Studies have revealed that younger people almost always tend to formulate their own ethical codes and device their own moral stances and as such less bothered by ethical considerations compared to older individuals who are more moralistic as they grow older.( Coombe 1997). Older people are more motivated by their life experience which fosters a desire to gain new knowledge and also much pressure is not felt by them enough to convince them to compromise their moral foundations. From our survey it was noticeable that the older the participants tended to be, the wiser and more ethical and had a more conservative approach towards academic aspects.
Generally students choose their majors according to what they feel matches their personality and individual qualities and is comfortable envisioning working in future. This is because this is what they feel matches their values. For instance, someone who is strictly against interest will not want to work in any sectors dealing with interests such as in banks. Someone opting for nursing has a compassion for serving others and lending a helping hand. On the other hand, someone who is majoring in business courses is taught to take rational decisions that exploit every available opportunity to maximize the wealth of the organization or optimize the economic benefits. In the last case, the student would be more willing to convey the ethical aspects to the backstage as here the bottom line is emphasized and hence maybe willing to maneuver the market for the sake of better earnings.
26% of the survey participants were marketing majors, while 16 % MIS, and 39 % Finance & Accounting majors, 14 % Management and 5 % non business majors
From our survey instrument we were able to decipher that the Management Information Systems (MIS) students had the highest ethical standards compared to finance majors next and the least ethical was found to be marketing majors. In trying to figure out the reason behind the vast difference in the rating for MIS and Marketing, we found out that most of the MIS majors and Finance majors were older comparatively to the younger marketing majors. This was consistent with our earlier findings in how age affected the ethical standing of students.
Our study findings have implications for academicians in two different areas: Educational strategies and Academic counseling/advising.
Based on our findings we strongly believe that students should be trained on how their personality plays an important part in influencing their ethical or moral culture. This will create more awareness among the students and also help to recognize their intrinsic moral tendencies. This will go a long way in insuring against misconduct and compromising on ethical stand when faced with high academic pressure and stress like when in school or college which is very much likely to follow them into their professional life as well. This will in turn ensure student guidance to take conscious decisions helping in gaining higher self directed ethical principles.
We believe that teaching ethics is similar to training in sports. It is not enough to just sermon on the rules of the game, it should be practiced. Only that is what ultimately gets played out in the real game. Hence this study recommends that ethics be taught as a part of every curriculum either by including separate courses in ethics or by having grass root emphasis on ethical components that runs through all the courses in the curriculum. All this should not be just confined to lecture and note taking activity; rather it should also include practical activities involving realistic case studies, role plays, debates etc.
Academic institutions must implement a strong code of ethics strictly in action not just in paper. At the beginning of the course, the instructors must ensure and specify strictly the course of action to be taken in case of non adherence to the curriculum code of honor but they should also bear in mind of being realistic in student expectations. Undue demands in terms of assignments, projects, course contents or examination will tempt to academic dishonesty. More supervision should be paid to those highly competitive and also the least competitive as they are more likely to resort to unethical methods due to more pressure. Opening all possible pathways to help students communicate to the professor freely or even anonymously will help students to confidently report to the professor any unethical or dishonest acts observed by them in class. It is not possible that all the students in the class will simultaneously fall into an ethical lapse.
Our study findings also have implications to academicians dealing with academic advising or student counseling. There is bound to be many students who are facing ethical dilemmas due to certain circumstances in the academic setting or personal lives. For such students, academic counselors must be made readily available. Students should also be evaluated for their competitive levels and personality types at these counseling centers. Majority of the educational institutions have an exit survey for outgoing or senior students on the verge of graduation as is required by accreditation agencies. Ethical issues should also be addressed in these questionnaires. The advantage of this is that advisors can provide individual attention and advice to students according to their competitive levels, their age, and professional orientation, i.e., major. Also these questionnaires can play a direct feedback of different kind of ethical issues faced by a student during the university life and thus provide necessary facilities and support systems.
Even the Student Career Services section can play an important role by using our study results to advice students falling into a particular category that match with their respective strengths. For instance someone who is only profit or money oriented is not a good fit to go into nursing field or can also be an oddball for religious studies. As our study had revealed, younger students preferred to take up more competitive majors such as marketing and finance whereas older ones seemed to prefer safer avenues like information systems which involve mastering codified knowledge and is more conventional. This can help universities to position itself and utilize the patterns while admitting students or giving academic advising.
A final implication of our study would be that the older the student gets, the more ethical they tend to become owing to maturity factors and long term vision rather than short term gains. This is indeed an opportunity to be utilized by universities to enhance their peer advising services in the academic setting by recruiting them as peer advisors or mentors and provide moral support. Students generally tend to take peer advices for face value and their disapprovals seriously.