Additional Information


From Bayer, Alan E. and John M. Braxton. Teaching Norms and the ASA’s Code of Ethics. ASA Footnotes. Vol. 28, 2000, 4.


Alan E. Bayer
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
John M. Braxton
Vanderbilt University<

While some professional associations, like the American Sociological Association, have long had codes of ethics, the increasing concern and publicity surrounding scientific misconduct over the past two decades has given rise to many new and revised codes of conduct by these and other associations.  The majority of professional associations which include a large contingent of academics among their members now have codes of ethics.  According to the analyses of these codes undertaken by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents Ethics in Science Committee, the majority of the documents address such issues as conflict on interest, matters of authorship, and responsibilities to society (Jorgensen 1995).

During this same time, there has also been growing national attention to incivility in the collegiate classroom, much of which is prompted by faculty misconduct and professional misfeasance and malfeasance in teaching (Boice 1996; Schneider 1998).  However, remarkably few codes of ethics address the teacher-student relationship.  Of 59 professional associations surveyed recently, only seven had codes of conduct/ethics which contained any statements whatsoever related to the faculty-student relationship (Rupert and Holmes 1997).  Indeed, a similar content analysis of professional association codes (Jergensen 1995) indicates that the topic of humane treatment of animals was addressed more frequently (26 percent of documents) than is the treatment of one's students.

In our research, surveying a national cross-section of faculty members in representative disciplines (biology, mathematics, history, psychology) at a variety of institutional types, we went beyond what was covered in any professional codes of conduct to ascertain the norms held by the professoriate in regard to undergraduate teaching (Braxton and Bayer 1999).  Seven clusters of behaviors were identified for which strong proscriptive norms and sanctions prevailed.  We call these “inviolable” teaching norms.  They are:

         Condescending Negativism (e.g., public classroom criticism of a student's performance; condescending remarks to a student in front of the class)

         Inattentive Planning (e.g., a course syllabus is not prepared; required texts are not ordered on time).

         Moral Turpitude (e.g., attending class while intoxicated; sexual overtures to students).

         Particularistic Grading (e.g., awarding grades based on nonacademic student attributes; not allowing all students equal opportunity to do extra credit work).

         Personal Disregard (e.g., routinely showing up late for class; frequently using profanity in class).

         Uncommunicated Course Details (e.g., changing the scheduled class time without consultation with students; not informing students of one's policy on make-up exams).

         Uncooperative Cynicism (e.g., refusal to participate in out-of- classroom teaching roles such as advising students or participating in curricular planning).

Unlike most scholarly and disciplinary professional associations -- which have no codes of ethics, or only brief statements of ethics which say little or nothing about ethics in the teaching role, the American Sociological Association is matched only by the American Psychological Association (upon which an endnote to the ASA's code acknowledges use of the APA's code) in incorporating a number of aspects of the teaching role in its “Code of Ethics” (ASA)/”Code of Conduct” (APA).  The ASA code addresses parts of each of the seven inviolable teaching norms clusters:

         Some aspects of Condescending Negativism, including public humiliation of students, is dealt with in Sections 11.01 and 11.06 which assures confidentiality regarding student performance.

         Moral Turpitude is addressed as regards sexual solicitation, sexual relationships with students, and sexual harassment in Sections 6 and 7.

         A component of Particularistic Grading is implicit in the nondiscrimination statement in Section 5.

         Section 18.02b specifies that sociologists will provide accurate information at the outset about their course, a part of both the proscriptive norms of Inattentive Planning and Uncommunicated Course Details.

         Participation in out-of-classroom teaching-related activities, which are a part of Uncooperative Cynicism, is addressed in Section 18.01.

         Finally, Section 18.02a states that sociologists will conscientiously execute their teaching obligations, an “umbrella” statement that covers aspects of Personal Disregard as well as the variety of other proscribed inviolable norms that we identify.  

    In conclusion, the ASA (together with the APA) presents one of the most comprehensive treatments among professional association codes of conduct as regards the appropriate teaching roles of association members.  Nevertheless, the growing literature on professional norms held by the professorate regarding the teaching role, including the empirically-grounded derivations reported in our Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching, can provide a guide for further explication in our Code of Ethics.  We concur with Wagner (1996, p.10) that professional codes of conduct should not attempt to provide “do's and don'ts” for every possible situation.  Rather, professional codes, including that of the ASA, need to more explicitly but broadly draw attention to the full array of important moral and responsible acts required to exhibit the highest standards in the execution of our collegiate teaching roles.

Boice, R. 1996. “Classroom Incivilities,” Research in Higher Education, 37: 453-485.

Braxton, J.M. and A.E. Bayer. 1999. Faculty Misconduct in Collegiate Teaching Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Jorgensen, A. 1995. “Survey Shows Policies on Ethical Issues Still Lacking Enforcement Mechanisms,” Professional Ethics Report,8 (winter): 1,6.

Rupert, P.A. and Holmes, D.L. 1997. “Dual Relationships in Higher Education: Professional and Institutional Guidelines,” Journal of Higher Education, 68: 660-678.

Schneider, A. 1998. “Insubordination and Intimidation Signal the End of Decorum in Many Classrooms,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 44: A12-A14.

Wagner, P.A. 1996.  Understanding Professional Ethics.  Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.