Putting your head above the parapet

Discussion board for ethical dilemmas we face at work

Putting your head above the parapet

Postby Fiona Beddoes-Jones » Mon Oct 18, 2010 7:55 am

Many of you will know that as well as running the Cognitive Fitness Consultancy, I’m currently doing a part-time PhD studying Authentic Leadership. I’ve recently come across what seemed to me to be an ethical dilemma in the sense that it was something that I simply couldn’t ignore – to do the ‘right’ thing, it seemed to me that someone had to do something …………. And as I knew from experience that if I didn’t raise the issue no-one else would, - it seemed to me that for all student’s benefit (not simply my own), that I had to do something.

Here’s a transcript of the actual email that I sent to the Dean of the Business School where I’m studying. I also sent it to a number of other people because as you probably know, universities are notoriously political places! I had to think long and hard before I stuck my head above the parapet, because it seems to me that if you do that, people will either follow you or shoot you, and I genuinely didn’t know which would be the case here ……………

The draft email sat on my desktop for about a week before I finally had the courage to send it.

Did I do the right thing? Will I be the villain or the hero in this story? What would you have done?

Ref: Module 1234 Research Ethics

I am writing, (as a XXXX PhD student), to express my concern that the above module is not being offered / delivered for post-graduate research students within the University for the second year running.

I am very concerned, as this is an absolutely CRITICAL module for all researchers at post-graduate level, and the fact that it has been cancelled for the last two academic years suggests that either there is a disconnect somewhere within the University module processes, or, and this is a significantly worse accusation; that XXXX University does not take the issue of research ethics seriously.

Clearly, the second statement is not true, which therefore leaves just the first one.

I apologize for making such a fuss; I am after all, ‘only’ a student. However, that said, I am a customer of the University, in fact, I am also sponsoring a colleague through a PhD as well as myself, and, as a member of the Institute of Directors, a Fellow of the RSA and a member of the British Psychological Society, I understand the critical importance of professional reputation for an organization, and in all honesty, I could not, in good faith, currently recommend XXXX to my clients or professional colleagues as a centre of excellence within which to study at post-graduate level.

You will not be aware, but I am exploring the concept of Authentic Leadership under Prof XXX. One of the characteristics of Authentic leaders is that they display moral courage in the face of dissent from others where they feel strongly about an issue of ethics or integrity. I could not therefore, even at the risk of making myself unpopular, simply say nothing. That is what I did last year; I am not prepared to do it again this academic year.

The argument that will be levied of course, is that not enough students booked onto the course last year and therefore it could not be run. Maybe this is an issue of marketing, maybe it is an issue of students having a limited amount of time available and/or timetable clashes with modules. Although the module was included in the handbook this year, the Philosophy Department never had any intention of running it, and therefore even if students tried to book onto the module, as I and my colleague tried to, they could not.

The fact therefore remains that Module 12345 – Research Ethics, is not currently being offered to students. This is something that I believe MUST change. And not in the next academic year, but in this one. The challenge for all of us, is to find an effective and workable way to make this happen. I do have a suggestion for this, which I will outline below now.

If the issue is one of no teaching staff being available, I will offer to lead and facilitate the Module (at no cost to the University) provided that I am given access to the materials to do so and provided that I am supported in a mentoring / advisory role by a University member of teaching staff who has the relevant experience of the research ethics field. I have more that 20 years experience of facilitation and teaching, and I believe that my skills set in this area will be adequate for the task. I will make it very clear to students that I am not a professional academic lecturer and that all of their comments and suggestions will be most welcome as we are very much ‘in this together’ to support each other. Of course, the two pieces of module coursework will need to be marked by someone qualified to do so.

If the issue is one of an over-crowded curriculum for post-grad students, I would suggest that the Module is scheduled to run in semesters 2 and 3 rather than the original 1 and 2 stated in the handbook.

If the issue is one of a lack of students booking onto the module, then I suggest that this is a marketing issue and the module needs to be marketed to students more effectively via a personal email from their departments strongly recommending that they consider taking the course. It is after all, worth a considerable number of credits (20) which students are always keen to achieve.

I hope that you find my suggestions and my willingness to support the University in its objectives and to support my fellow students in their studies, far outweigh any irritation you may feel that I have kicked up such a fuss about this module.

Somebody had to, and it seems as if this year, that somebody had to be me.

My best wishes as always,
With regard,
Fiona Beddoes-Jones
M.D. The Cognitive Fitness Consultancy
Programme Director, 3 Peaks Leadership

01476 861010 - office
07950 337 099 - mobile

"The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking".
Albert Einstein 1879 - 1955
Fiona Beddoes-Jones
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