The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation 

Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D.

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

The art of teaching is to teach, to teach well and to teach even better.

Chapter: IX  Cases/Scenarios

This chapter is simply a collection of a number of scenarios that can be treated as material for a case study, an ethical case study.  These cases can be used in a number of different ways to illustrate points or to develop moral reasoning.   Many of the cases involve a number of different issues and could be classified as illustrative of any one of them.  In this collection the cases are offered in groups but they can be used to illustrate issues other than those under the heading in which they have been placed.  There will be no attempt in this chapter to do more than to present scenarios as so much material for case study.  In Chapter XI of this work two particular cases are offered along with their case studies in which there are analyses,  suggested resolutions and recognition of significant problems with the production of an ethical solution that follows from premises that include acknowledgement of the professional status of educators and the basic responsibilities of faculty and educational institutions.   In those studies the notion of a complex of  responsibilities (individual, collective and institutional ) is employed as being unavoidable in practice when confronted with a particularly difficult situation in which the disideratum is a complete solution.

There are many cases of moral and ethical issues and problems to be found in exposes of the academy.  Two works that are particularly rich as they are replete with tales of reprehensible conduct and the failure to adequately address and redress such behaviors are:

Lewis, Michael. Poisoning the Ivy: The Seven Deadly Sins and Other Vices of Higher Education in America. Armonk, NY: E. Sharpe,1997.

Sykes, Charles. Prof Scam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education. New York: St Martin's Press, 1988.

There are collections of cases related to education available at a variety of locations including those at the Center for the Study of Ethics:  . Click on any title below for materials.

Other cases are offered under the heading of "Academic Ethics" in a listing at Ethics Updates and are available at

Click on the numeral in the left column for each case.

LINK Topic   Case Author


Financial Aid

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F.


Cliff Notes

Academic ethics

McCarthy, Andy


MP3 on campus

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F.


Fairness in punishment

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F


The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F.


Student health insurance

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F.


SAT Exams and Affirmative Action

Academic ethics

Ladenson, Robert F.


Liasons academiques

Academic ethics

Hinman, Lawrence M.


“Not on our network, you can’t…”
Downloading unauthorized files at colleges and universities

Academic ethics

Hinman, Lawrence M.

The cases listed above could be placed under the headings offered by Michael Bayles.  He has stated that there are the most general ethical or moral problems found in nearly every profession.  These include:

  • Serving the requests of clients
  • Appropriate scope of service
  • Types of fees
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Conflicts between clients
  • Obligations to inform clients
  • Obligations to others beyond the client and to society
  • Ethics of research
  • Informing on the ethics or behavior of colleagues

This claim is true of the profession of education.  Of this list there are those ethical concerns or moral problems related to education that have been touched upon already in the work above :

  • Serving the requests of clients: Tolerance

  • Obligations to others beyond the client and to society: Whose benefit?
  • Obligations to inform clients: Paternalism 

  • Potential for Harm 

There are certainly situations in education that present moral dilemmas and ethical issues that could be presented here below under all of the headings indicated by Bayles and certainly under each of those headings just indicated.  In this work an approach has been presented for situating ethical discourse and decision making that looks at a complex of responsibilities that are held in relation to one another (chapter IV).   In order to indicate which set of responsibilities might be taken to be involved in the most essential manner in each of the cases that will be presented below the cases or scenarios are being placed here under those headings:

A. Individual Responsibility

  • i.  Teaching

  • ii.  Research

  • iii. Experimentation

B. Collective Responsibility

C. Institutional Responsibility

A. i. Individual Responsibility:  Teaching

Sketch /scenario #   Buy my book: Conflicts of interests

A faculty member publishes a text and requires its use by the students in the classes taught by that instructor.  All the royalties from the sales of the book to all purchasers go to the instructor-author.

Variation 1:  The department chairperson has written a textbook and it has been published and it is required to be used in all sections of the courses for which it is an appropriate text.   All the royalties from the sales of the book to all purchasers go to the department chairperson-author.

Variation 2: The department chairperson and another member of the faculty of the department have written a textbook and it has been published and it is required to be used in all sections of the courses for which it is an appropriate text.   All the royalties from the sales of the book to all purchasers go to the department chairperson and to the other member of the faculty of the department as authors.

AAUP REPORT  On Professors Assigning Their Own Texts to Students

see also "How Do Professors Choose Texts for Courses?" by Austin Cline at


Sketch /scenario #  Editorial Board Member: Conflicts of interests

A small publishing house solicits faculty to become members of an Editorial Board by placing orders for a new textbook about to be published or recently published by the company.  In return for submitting a "review" of the text after use the faculty member is credited with being a member of the editorial board.

see also "Professors taking bribes to require books", by Austin Cline at


Sketch /scenario #   Textbook Author: Conflicts of interests

A custom publishing firm- or branch of a large publishing house- contacts faculty members soliciting them as authors of textbooks.  The firm offers to put together a text from the instructor's own writings and from others published works.  The instructor need only guarantee the requiring of its purchase by the students in the classes taught by that instructor over a specified period of time or until a specified number of the texts are sold.  The instructor is credited as the author of he text and ahs a publication to claim on the instructor's vita. 

Sketch /scenario #  Requiring students to vote: Appropriate scope of service

Professor Skaggs, a gentle-spoken 66-year-old, sent out a faculty wide e-mail message announcing that she planned to make voting a class requirement. She urged other faculty members to do the same.

"I will explain this move by reminding my students that we not only study the forces that shape our American culture," Professor Skaggs wrote, "but also participate in shaping the culture as well." --New York Times, September 22, 2004.

Read about this scenario by clicking here:  You must Vote -Merrill Skaggs –Drew University

Sketch /scenario #  One person cheats- the entire class must retake the exam

At the very end of an in-class examination involving 37 students in a single room an instructor discovers by direct observation that two students have been cheating by working together and passing information related to the examination questions.  The instructor stops the exam and informs the entire class that the exam just concluded will not be graded and will be destroyed and that a new examination will be prepared that they must all take during the next class period.

Sketch /scenario #   Professional Conference: Conflicts of interests

Professor F often cancels or reschedules classes in order to attend professional conferences at which professor F makes presentations, serves on a panel or attends sessions related to Professor F's academic discipline.

 Sketch /scenario # not meeting classes: Conflict in Interests

A professor in one department is known by colleagues both in and out of that department to regularly (every Monday) not to meet with classes one of three scheduled days each week.  That faculty member enters into activities on that day that are outside of teaching and provide considerable income to that faculty member.  No colleague reports this.  The chair of the department asks no questions of the faculty member when hearing from students of the failure to meet with class on Mondays.

Sketch /scenario # having classes do exercises in textbook with no instruction: Serving the interests/requests of clients

In a department that offers a sequence of courses as part of the major faculty who teach  mid-level classes hear regularly over several semesters from some of the students who enter their classes that they do not have some of the background knowledge that the mid level course relies on the first introductory and foundational course to have covered.  These students claim that they took the introductory level class with a professor T  who simply had them do exercises in the textbook each class period and did not lecture or do much more than monitor the class while they did their "assignments".    Professor T is a tenured senior member of the department and a friend of the department chairperson and the mid level instructors are junior members of the faculty in that department. 

Sketch /scenario #  "You have no right to challenge me": Serving the requests of clients

In a biology class a student rejects the notion that the planet earth is more than 6,00 years old and that human beings are as they are due to a process of evolution.  The student claims that the account offered in the student's religious tradition as contained in its sacred scripture is literally true.  When the biology instructor indicates that the empirical claims presented through that scripture can not be literally true and that there exists evidence in refutation of many of those claims the student responds to the instructor with the claim that "You have no right to challenge me, these are my beliefs and I have a right to hold them."

Sketch /scenario # : I want another section: Serving the requests of clients

A student meets with the chairperson of a department of Psychology.  The request ?  The student wanted to be placed into another section of the introduction to Psychology class.  The reason?  The student wanted a section of the course where the instructor would not attempt to present claims related to evolution and evolutionary psychology in particular.

Sketch /scenario # What do I need this for? : Obligations to others beyond the client and to society: Whose benefit?

A student challenges the need or the requirement to take classes in mathematics, claiming I want to be a dance instructor. What do I need this for?"

A. ii. Individual Responsibility:  Research

Sketch /scenario # To teach better: Ethics of research

Professor P has taught for over 35 years at University U.  The professor is a well known scholar who is much published.  Professor P is teaching one of his "signature" classes in hs specialty.  Professor P sits in the front of the room in each class and reads from his notes that are yellowing due to their age.   Professor P has not changed his notes nor his manner of instruction nor his assessment exercises in all those 35 years.

A. iii. Individual Responsibility:  Experimentation

These sketches/scenarios all in one way or another exemplify situations that involve moral dilemmas or ethical issues.  Some of the cases involve pedagogic research and some involve pedagogic experimentation with human subjects.  Some of the instances of experimentation are formal and some are informal but all involve research and what might be seen in some fashion as experimentation with human subjects.  That some of these cases might not be commonly regarded as cases involving experimentation and the ethical considerations consequent thereto is evidence of the low level of awareness of professional educators for the ethical concerns associated with what they do and is subject matter for discussion amongst the members of the profession.  This work attempts to serve as catalyst for the furthering of that dialogue. 

Sketch /scenario # To teach better: Ethics of research

Instructor A has been teaching at this Midwestern college for less than a year.  This instructor has occasion to speak with a more senior colleague with some 17years of teaching experience at the institution. The junior faculty member inquires as to how the senior colleague presents some particular material to the class.  The senior colleague responds with: 

"Well in my first years here I simply had them read the text and then I would review it in class and ask some questions about what they had read but after a while I thought that did not work well at all and so I presented them with a summary of the reading to prepare them for it and then a presented them with some questions based on the reading that they were to answer in writing and hand in to me before our class discussion.  That did work a little better but after two or three semesters of doing that I made another change and I now do it this way:

I present them with a summary of the reading to prepare them for it.

Then I present them with some questions based on the reading that they are to answer in writing and hand in to me before our class discussion.

Then I have them work in groups discussing those questions to arrive at the best possible answers.

Finally, I lead the entire class in discussion on the materials and the important issues and have been doing it this way for over 13 years or so." 

Sketch /scenario # To teach even better: Ethics of research

Instructor confronts a colleague concerning the use of educational technologies by asking:

" I understand that you teach in a mode called 'hybrid".  What exactly do you do."  The colleague replies with:

"to tell you the truth I have done it for 7 semesters now and I am using my fourth model for a hybrid class.  I kept changing the instructional design until I found one that I think works best to accomplish what I want to with the sort of students we have here." 

Sketch /scenario #  To teach even better: Ethics of research

Two instructors with roughly the same length and type of teaching experience within the same department have a conversation in which one says to the other:" I am thinking of using a writing intensive mode of instruction but I have my reservations about it.  Is it really any better than what I have been doing." The colleague replies with" Well, I tried using a writing intensive approach in one of my classes two years ago and I did not think it was all that much better and so I stopped doing it. 

Sketch /scenario # To teach even better: Ethics of research

Instructor in Sociology speaks with a fellow instructor of English at an Eastern public college.  " I am interested in developing an idea for a Learning Community with you in which we would link our two classes pursuing some common themes and with some common assignments for a common class of students. "  The professor of English replies with "Well, I am aware of the college's promoting this and I am willing to give it a try in order to see if it would be any more effective with my students than what I have been doing." 

Sketch /scenario # To teach even better: Ethics of research

A faculty member developed a lab manual to use with students and after doing so for three semesters decides to revise it because the author's students reported problems with the text and with some of the procedures that were described within it. 

Sketch /scenario # To teach even better: Ethics of research

A faculty member decides that the available textbooks for the course are less than effective and so over the course of three years writes a textbook that finds a publisher and now uses the text in classes for three semesters.  Feedback from the author's own students and from other readers comes to the author who decides that certain portions of the text need to be revised and then does so. 

Sketch/scenario # Obligations to inform clients: Paternalism 

A new faculty member in her first teaching job at a four-year college is unsure of the value of informal writing assignments in her classes.  She reviews the literature on low-stakes writing assignments, and contrary to her own educational practices, decides to implement a series of informal written assignments in one of her two survey classes.  This is her first time implementing these sorts of assignments, and she has graduated from an institution which has typically disparaged such student writing as a “waste of time.”            

Interested only in effective teaching (and not future publication), she devises a survey tool through which to judge the student reactions to her classes.  While the introductory class with no informal writing is generally well received, she is surprised at the overwhelmingly positive support for the low-stakes written assignments in the other class.  Students responded with comments like “I loved to be able to think through the topic, and to put it into my own words,” “These essays really brought the material to life for me,” and “I really felt as though I was really learning, and not just memorizing.”           

Still skeptical, she decides to try the same approach the following semester (one introductory with low-stakes writing, one without) to further evaluate the pedagogical effectiveness of her classes. 

Sketch/scenario # To teach even better: Ethics of research-avoiding unnecessary  harms

A faculty member learns of an initiative at the college that is fostering the use of collaborative teaching techniques and group learning and learning communities.  When the faculty member announces to a colleague that in the next semester group projects and presentations will become part of the curriculum the response is “How do you know that your students will be up to doing that kind of work?  Maybe some of them have a hard time or even psychological problems working closely with others?”  The faculty member responds with “Well, no technique is perfect.  Perhaps I’ll have more of them learning more with this new approach.  Some of my colleagues report it is working well for them.  If a few of the students don’t adapt, well that’s just the way it goes.” 

A teacher would not present instruction or conduct assessments through the use of visual presentations if there were learners who were visually challenged in the class.  Doing so exposes those with disability issues to potential harm, so teachers would avoid such poor practice.  But what if a teacher is thinking of conducting instruction utilizing group work and collaborative learning techniques and even peer assessments and in the class there are persons who have psychological problems that impair their ability to work closely with others?  What are the responsibilities of instructors prior to doing such research on new pedagogies to learn about the group of learners/subjects so as to avoid causing them academic and psychological harm?

Sketch /scenario #   Use of Deception: Obligations to inform clients

In a sociology class an instructor provides direction to the members of the class in meditation.  Then the instructor requests that all the students enter into a period of meditation during which the instructor will meditate as well.  The instructor enters into the exercise with the students with all closing their eyes as instructed to do so.  Unbeknownst to the students the timekeeper assigned to keep open eyes and announce the end of the meditation period was actually directed by the instructor to "keep an eye" on the class of students and report what they were doing while the instructor's eyes were shut.  The exercise was intended to produce experiences relating to what has been learned about respect for authority figures and concerning group behavior.

Sketch /scenario # Use of Deception: Obligations to others beyond the client and to society

In a Social Psychology class students are ordered by their instructor to go out and pretend to be disabled in some way and then board a crowded bus or subway and ask someone seated for their seat.

B. Collective Responsibility

Sketch /scenario # not meeting classes : Informing on the ethics or behavior of colleagues

A professor in one department is known by colleagues both in and out of that department to regularly (every Monday) not to meet with classes one of three scheduled days each week.  That faculty member enters into activities on that day that are outside of teaching and provide considerable income to that faculty member.  No colleague reports this.  The chair of the department asks no questions of the faculty member when hearing from students of the failure to meet with class on Mondays.

Sketch /scenario # not enough time

After several years of teaching a sequence of new course in a new program at college C the faculty who teach the new sequence in department D come to realize that the initial time given for instruction and lab work was insufficient to the task of providing coverage and mastery of all the materials, concepts and for skill development as described in the curriculum for each class. Instructors had taken to the practice of spending two additional hours each week with each class.  These two hours each week were not part of the teaching schedule and were not part of their teaching load and so neither did the students have the time as part of their basic schedule of classes nor were faculty compensated for their time.  The department was made aware of the situation.

Sketch /scenario # too poorly prepared students

Instructors in department E came to realize that they were not covering as much material in their basic introductory level courses as they did when those courses were first introduced into the curriculum over 15 years before.  The most popular view was that students were not as well prepared as they once had been.  Conversations about the state of affairs amongst colleagues in the department often included expressions of both dissatisfaction and a wish that something could be done to facilitate coverage of the full curriculum and student completion of objectives. 

C. Institutional Responsibility

Sketch /scenario # lack of student support services

Students at community college C are admitted to classes in the liberal arts and sciences  the without proper preparation for the academic work involved in those classes.  They are not given sufficient or accessible student support services in terms of their reading and writing skills or mathematical skills.  They do poorly .  Instructors do not have the time to effectively remediate those who are under prepared and consequently must assign failing grades.  There is a low retention rate for students who are under prepared.

Sketch /scenario # combining two different classes

A new academic program N in Department D was introduced at college S two years before.  Now as the first cohort of students in the program progress the following situation has resulted.  There are very few students who are enrolled in N who are registered in a class C in program N that is needed for completion of the degree.  The college wants to cancel the class C for insufficient enrollment.  The chairperson of department D speaks with the administrators of C in order to make a case that C should be kept open and offered regardless of the enrollment as it was necessary to develop the program N.  The administration accepts the case but offers as a resolution that class C would be taught by  a faculty member F  of D who was in program N in the same room and at the same time that F was scheduled to teach another class C-2.  Classes C and C-2 have different curricula.

Sketch /scenario # instructors being assigned a subject with no background in it

Enrollment in program P offered by department D in college C have fallen to a point where there are not sufficient sections to provide for classes for the normal teaching load of all tenured faculty.  The department chairperson scheduled two faculty in program P to teach classes in department D for which they had no background in their own undergraduate and graduate programs of study.  This scheduling was accepted by the management of college C without question.

Sketch /scenario # admitting under qualified students into classes

In the final days of registration for the fall semester in order to enroll as many students as  possible and meet the FTE goal that secures funding for public college P, administrators admit to classes students who are lacking in the prerequisite skills and background for certain classes. 

Sketch /scenario # not scheduling classes needed for graduation

Students who are officers in the student government of college C present a petition to the president of the college asking that classes they need to fulfill their graduation requirements not be cancelled due to insufficient enrollment for students who are in their final semester at the college.  The president refers the matter to the dean of instruction who informs the students that it is not "economically feasible" for the college to offer classes with "insufficient enrollment".

Sketch /scenario # not scheduling classes required in the program after committing to the program (eve or weekend)

Community college C has announced the creation of a "Weekend College" program.  The college trumpets this offering with great fanfare.  The college has informed students who "enroll" in this program that they will fulfill all degree requirements in four years by taking 3 classes each weekend in the fall and spring and 2 in the summer.  After four years students complain to the dean of instruction that they are not graduating on time because the college is not offering the remaining classes that they need to satisfy the degree requirements on the weekend.  The dean of instruction explains that the classes are not being offered or are being cancelled due to "insufficient enrollment". Over the next two years nothing that is done produces and keeps classes on weekends that are needed for those students.

Sketch /scenario # substituting a technician for the listed instructor

In department D of College C the chairperson of D has assigned himself a class A to teach for additional compensation.  Instead of meeting with that self assigned class A the chairperson assigns a laboratory technician to meet with and teach the class.   Students complain to the academic provost that not only do they not have their assigned instructor instead they have a laboratory technician who lacks the academic credentials and experience of the listed and assigned instructor.  The Provost does nothing to remove the technician nor to secure the participation of the chairperson in the instruction of the class A.

Sketch /scenario # changing when classes are offered from evening to day to suit the instructor

A new degree program N is introduced at community college C.  It is offered by department D and it is offered in the evening as it is marketed to people who already are employed and working in allied careers. An adjunct instructor T is assigned by the chairperson S to coordinate the program.  T teaches classes in program N.  After two semester of its introduction the program has a cohort H proceeding through the four semester curriculum taking classes in the evening.  The chairperson of department D then assigns faculty member F to coordinate program N in place of T.  F is a favorite of  D. F prefers to work in the day and so reschedules classes in program N for the day and offers no classes in N in the evening.  The students in H in program N are for the most part unable to take classes during the day due to their employment.  Students in H complain to the chairperson S that there are no classes in the evening in N and that the classes offered in the day are cancelled due to "insufficient enrollment".  S does nothing to reschedule the classes nor to keep the under enrolled classes in N in the day.  The dean of instruction at C is made aware of the situation but does nothing.

Rather than adding more cases to what might very well be a nearly inexhaustible listing this work will go on to present a guide to how ethical concerns can be confronted and moral dilemmas resolved and professional responsibilities fulfilled in a manner that is not beyond imagination nor impractical.   After doing this, two cases such as those listed above will be presented followed by an analysis and suggested resolutions.  The two cases will be offered as examples of how the cases listed above might be addressed in a manner that involves a consideration for the complex of responsibilities involved in these cases.

@copyright 2004 by S. Kincaid and P. Pecorino

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