American Sociological Association

Case 10. Exploration or Exploitation?

Situation

The Dean has mandated that every department have a homepage. Ashmore Williams, chair of a financially-strapped sociology department, makes a deal with Richard Tracy, a graduate student who is a computer whiz and has substantial experience in setting up homepages, to undertake this task in exchange for a one-credit independent study.

Questions

  1.     Has the chair committed an ethical violation by offering the student credit and not providing an educational experience?

Discussion

The chair might consider whether or not s/he has the right, assuming the project has no educational benefit to this student, to convert an institutional resource over which s/he has control – course credit – to the department's use, as if it were legal tender. The chair might also consider whether or not there is any possible way to ensure educational benefit to the student and offer course credit commensurate with the effort involved and some measure of educational benefit. Finally, the chair might consider whether or not the inducement to do this work is so great that the student, in effect, is compelled to agree and thus has lost the right of refusal.

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