Selling the Soul of Academia (A Guest Post from Steven Mintz!)


I have the great pleasure of introducing an article by my friend, Steven Mintz, better known as the Ethics Sage. Among many other things he is doing, he has a recently developed new blog site: http://www.higheredethicswatch.com/

So, please read and enjoy! As always, like and share whenever possible!

Selling the Soul of Academia

Commercialism a Threat to Academic Freedom

I just read about Texas A&M ‘s lottery to sell hotel reservations in a facility across the street from Kyle Field, where the Aggies play their football games. For a mere $100,000, A&M supporters and alums can stay close to campus and watch Aggie football games. Sound over-the-top? Well, to date 750 alums have expressed interest in the program. If you’re interested in a suite, you can enter the lottery and start the bidding from $125,000 to $475,000.

Guaranteed room options, as their called, seems to be gaining support at colleges and universities across the U.S. Universities, especially those with top-flight sports teams, are always seeking to monetize their athletic programs. But, are these universities selling their soul to commercial interests in return for a seat at the table? Or, in this case, a room across the stadium for long-distance travelers.

I have previously blogged about conflicts in the biotech industry and research by professors,[1] and increasing commercialism at academic institutions industry[2]. In the latter, I pointed out that Penn State University and the University of Minnesota had signed contracts with Pepsi-Cola ($14 million) and Coca-Cola ($28 million), respectively, giving the beverage companies sole rights on campus to sell their products. These pay to play agreements limit choice and should be discussed in classrooms in the context of free or speech and whether such agreements are ethical.

Other conflicts of interest abound including selling patents developed by university researchers to pharmaceutical companies and conducting “independent research” on the efficacy of new drugs in their experimental phase. Does anyone believe the researchers would write a crucial report IF the pharmaceutical companies are donors to the university?

I recently read an insightful publication, University Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, in which the author, Jennifer Washburn, states[3]:

“During the past two decades, commercial forces have transformed virtually every aspect of academic life. Corporate funding of universities is growing and the money comes with strings attached. In return for corporate largesse, universities are acting more and more like for-profit patent factories, while professors are behaving more like businessmen. Secrecy is replacing the free flow of basic knowledge, university funds are shifting from the humanities to more commercially lucrative science labs, and the skill of teaching is valued less and less. The consequences of the new academic-industrial complex are wide-ranging and disturbing.”

So, what’s the problem with a university raising funds from corporate and other commercial interests?

  • The monies often go right back into athletic activities, not to improving classroom instruction.
  • Academic independence is threatened. Imagine if Pepsi and Coke used child labor overseas. Would the universities criticize the donors?
  • The pay for play arrangements send the wrong message to students that out in the real world they may have to compromise their integrity to gain business for their employers.
  • Funded professors are taken out of the classroom to do research and paid enormous salaries as well. One recent study reported at least ten professors getting $500,000 or more[4].
  • Underpaid lecturers are brought in to teach those classes and, rather than increasing their salaries, more students and/or larger classes are assigned thereby straining their already over-taxed schedules.

These are just a few of the ethical issues. What bothers me the most is it’s another step down the ethical slippery slope, like denying the right to free speech of those with controversial points of view. Rather than opening up the minds of university students, colleges and universities are contributing to the closing of their minds.

Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, is a Professor Emeritus at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His new blog on higher education ethics can be found at: http://www.higheredethicswatch.com/. Visit Steve’s website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/.

[1] http://www.ethicssage.com/2012/02/academic-freedom-and-the-commercialization-of-universities.html.

 

[2] http://www.ethicssage.com/2011/07/the-selling-of-american-universities.html.

 

[3] https://muse.jhu.edu/article/195083.

 

[4] https://thebestschools.org/features/highest-paid-college-professors-america/.

 

David Fishinghawk


David Fishinghawk

In the 21st Century, it is almost unheard of for a man to live the life of a warrior. Only occasionally can a man can live for decades when suffering from chronic illness. And in these modern times, few men can teach the way of the warrior in a time obsessed with valuing every human endeavor in terms of dollars and sense.

David Fishinghawk did all those things. He walked the earth as a warrior, a martial artist and gifted teacher.

Most men look back on their lives and remember that one time they fought, maybe over a girl or an insult. David fought thousands, almost uncountable times. He fought in the way of the martial artist, to demonstrate his skill, show his courage and practice his art. As a martial artist, he sculpted his body and mind over a period over a period of roughly forty years. A list of his trophies would fill a good sized book from cover to cover.

For many years, David had a studio in Locust Grove, Oklahoma devoted to the teaching and practice of American Tae Kwon Do. There are now multiple generations of students who will carry his teachings on to others. It is said that we live on in the memories of others but a martial artist also lives on in his teachings and in his example. As long a move he perfected is taught and as long as someone small learns to face fearsome odds with courage, David will live on.

He had a wonderful sense of humor and it was given full expression when he was teaching. He loved a game called “Karate Simon Says.” The students especially children tried to follow his instructions trying to only follow his commands when “simon says” came first. And he rewarded the winner of these and many other karate games with stickers, toys and candy always tossed at the victors sometime easily and sometimes to make them lunge or dive for the goodies.

He delighted in teaching children and developed awards for a wide variety of activities so that every student had a chance to excel.

He did not become wealthy or financially secure through his teachings. That’s not why he did it. He was following the tradition of the way of the warrior from both the Western and Eastern cultures and from his tribe as well, the American connection.

On the night he passed, there was a thunderstorm. In the Cherokee tradition, there are storm warriors who roam the sky. Tonight there is one more.

The Micro-Aggression Edition


The Micro-Aggression Edition

When I was very young and watched television shows, I noticed that starlets were converted into scientists and librarians by wearing their hair in a bun and wearing glasses often heavy black rimmed glasses. I couldn’t help but notice that while their appearance changed their intelligence and manner did not. And I thought those days were behind us, but I was wrong.

There is evidence that people and by people in this sense, I largely mean men, buy into this, that is, the idea that glasses and hair color in indicate intelligence and capability in women. Let me quote from a BBC article called – 100 Women: ‘I dye my hair brown to be taken more seriously at work’ :

A Silicon Valley CEO reveals her secret to getting ahead in business – dyeing her blonde hair brown, and ditching her heels and contact lenses.

I missed some details when I was young, you also can’t be blonde or wear contacts.

So, let me get this straight – to get ahead in tech (it’s in the article) you have to dress like a 1960’s starlet playing a banker in, “The Beverly Hillbillies?”

Oh, but don’t worry. It’s not stupidity or dullness to blame for this – it’s all about “pattern recognition.” Here, let me quote –

Carey was told that the investors she was pitching to would feel more comfortable dealing with a brunette, rather than a blonde woman.

“I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs,” she explains.

On the positive side, this implies that women can almost endlessly play men by what they wear and on the negative side that men are breathtakingly stupid.

I met a friend of mine for dinner a few years ago. She was stylish woman who dressed well and I was expecting dinner date garb. She showed up wearing a tiny haltertop that she was barely squeezed into. I said her name followed by “What the hell?” She laughed and told me she had been selling real estate and she had rushed to our date without having a chance to change. Apparently a shapely woman in form fitting clothes can get middle aged men to both buy and pay more for real estate. She told me stories of how well it worked and how the men reacted to her.

Now, let me be clear. I enjoy women dressing well and I taught my female students that dress and manner were critical to their success, but do people, particularly women, have to be so pathetically stereotyped? Women are as much individuals as men. Maybe, just maybe, we could listen to them as people and try to figure them out as people rather than classifying them in the most simple and often demeaning of ways.

I’m sure my friend could have sold real estate and made good money in her regular garb but the fact that wearing revealing tight clothing bumped up the price and the number of sales is not a positive comment on how we treat or think about women in our society.

As long as the appearance of women is the primary consideration in matters of business, we are going to suffer this kind of nonsense. And the cost is terrible, I’m sure many women simply won’t put up with it and many more are given short shrift in the business world because of ridiculous judgments on hair color and clothes. Depriving business of judgment, intelligence and insight in this manner is a tragedy.

James Pilant

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Fire Warning Edition


Fire Warning Edition

According to an article in the online magazine, Slate, entitled: Residents warned that London’s Grenfell apartment was a death trap before fire, there were warnings that the building was dangerous. Here’s a quote from the article –

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders,” wrote the Grenfell Action Group in a blog post from November. “We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the everyday management of large-scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

They added, “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”

It appears their fears of a catastrophic fire were well conceived. At the time that I am writing this, twelve people are dead and the police expect to find more bodies. A tall apartment building is difficult to escape from when you have a multi-story fire.

Why was nothing done? This kind of fire in this kind of building is a preventable disaster. Fire prevention is very much a science and there are rules for different kinds of buildings.

This loss of life is hardly likely to be accidental. The fire may have been accidental in origin but the results of a fire in an apartment building are readily predictable and well known, and there must have been a code of some sort defining what the law required. Can the building owners have been in compliance? I don’t know. In the United States, I would be pretty confident that this kind of loss of life could only occur with code violations.

I find it hard to believe that the British treat fire safety more casually that we do. So, I am going to be following the investigation with some care. I will post again on the matter of blame as soon as the British legal apparatus generates some answers.

James Pilant

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Double Spaced Stupidity


Double Spaced Stupidity

More than forty colleges and universities will be denied Upward Bound funds for violating strict technical rules on spacing, fonts or the like.

That I have to write that first sentence is appalling. That I live in a world where we have an administration denying aid to the neediest among our college students on grounds of line spacing implies a world of arbitrarily applied rules and government officials run amok.

The quote below is from the Chronicle of Higher Education article – Dozens of Colleges’ Upward Bound Applications Are Denied for Failing to Dot Every I. Read with astonishment about the “rules.” I did.

For the want of double spacing in a small section of a 65-page grant application, 109 low-income high-school students will be cut off from a program at Wittenberg University that has been providing them with tutoring and counseling to prepare them for college. And they’re not alone. Over the past few weeks at least 40 colleges and organizations with similar Upward Bound programs have also had their grant applications summarily rejected by the U.S. Department of Education for running afoul of rules on mandatory double-spacing rules, use of the wrong font, or other minor technical glitches.

The affected colleges, whose programs serve at least 2,400 low-income students, and the members of Congress who represent them are furious, especially because their appeals to the department for reconsideration have so far been met with little sympathy or indication of any sort of resolution.

The program director for Upward Bound at Wittenberg, Eddie L. Chambers, said he did have a conversation with Linda Byrd-Johnson, acting deputy assistant secretary for higher-education programs. It was “gracious,” said Mr. Chambers, who has overseen the Wittenberg program for 40 of its 50 years. “But in the end, she told me, ‘A rule is a rule.’ She told me, ‘Eddie, I too have to abide by the rules.’”

What’s going on here? Yes, there have to be rules but rules have to be applied with intelligence and judgment, things that have apparently simply ceased to exist at the Department of Education. Some of these colleges have received these benefits and run these programs for twenty years and didn’t have any problems with their applications until now.

Why now? You have to wonder? What is it about these applications that suddenly caused the Grammar Gestapo to leap into action? Is this just some innocent application of the rules or is it more sinister?

Is there something about helping poor people find their way into college that the our government finds upsetting? You have to ask what’s driving this? I don’t know but this is just nonsense and people are going to miss out because of incorrect spacing in an attached infogram on a grant request and that is just not right.

James Pilant

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Words Matter Edition


Words Matter Edition

The opoid crisis kills thousands of Americans. Where did the idea that opoids weren’t addictive and could be freely prescribed come from? Let me show you. This is from the article from Slate Magazine: Bad Footnotes Can Be Deadly, A one-paragraph blurb helped cause the opioid crisis. That’s just the start of science’s citation woes. 

Read below –

Back in 1979, Boston University Medical Center researchers Jane Porter and Hershel Jick found that just a handful of the patients who’d been treated with narcotics at a set of six hospitals went on to develop drug dependencies. Their single-paragraph summary of this resultwould be published as a letter to the editor in the NEJM under the heading, “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated With Narcotics.”

According to the recent correspondence in NEJM, this single paragraph was cited hundreds of times in the 1990s and 2000s to support the claim that prescription painkillers weren’t that addictive. It was during this period that doctors started treating pain much more aggressively than they had before and handing out potent drugs with little circumspection.

A tiny article grew in influence by being cited hundreds of times to prove that narcotics weren’t addictive when in fact all it said that under hospital conditions, that is, careful and close monitoring, narcotic use seldom led to addiction.

The tens of thousands of Americans with a serious problem with prescription drugs would no doubt be delighted to hear that a study of hospital care had been extrapolated to prove that handing out narcotics like candy at Halloween wouldn’t cause any problems.

What fascinates me is the power of a handful of words. Here we have just a few words. The original paragraph is just 101 words long. And yet the effects were dramatic. They were magnified by poor use of citations and an apparent desire to see what everyone wanted to see, that the free use of narcotics wouldn’t cause any problems. And these few words with the assistance of wishful thinking and poor writing habits reshaped our world, our reality.

I was reflecting the other day that over the past eight years, I may have written as many as a million words in my blogging and other writing. Sometimes, it seems that these have had little effect but there are many who do read me and how can I tell what will be the import of my work? It may be indirect. It may be long term but if there is anything that is obvious from this little story  –  it is that words do have consequences.

James Pilant

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Weaponized News!


Weaponized News!

All over the world, lies have become weaponized as never before. Deranged fantasies are spun about opposition politicians linking them to kidnapping and murder. False quotes are manufactured and repeated so often they enter the conventional wisdom. Historical events like the holocaust and the Sandy Hook massacre become objects of controversy while innocent blood cries from the earth.

There have always been lies. I can show you fake news from the Second World War both allied and axis. But what makes this different is that in the past the mass media, newspapers, magazines, radio and eventually television marketed information and news. There was one giant market that virtually everyone participated in. Now lies have longer legs and multiple routes.

The internet and the multiple cable news stations allow media bubbles where people can live blissfully unaware of the events they don’t find interesting. Here let me give you an example – are you aware of the Tuam babies case? Yes, that’s a little dustup that’s rewriting the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland – Here’s a link –The Amateur Historian Who Uncovered Ireland’s Mass Grave of Babies

That might have led the evening news in ’65 when the three major networks had powerful foreign desks to make sure that American stayed in touch with overseas events. We don’t do that anymore.

What we are doing more and more is forming tribes of insular groups who see no evil about their own groups and find appalling evil in those that disagree with them often only based on that disagreement. Roger Ailes labeling of liberals not as people with different political beliefs but as evil men and women will live long after his rotting corpse turns to dust.

Targeted news aimed at tiny groups of people using computer analysis has the capacity to upend our democracy and end the world of the Enlightenment. We can and are likely to degenerate into a dystopian oligarchy with these kinds of forces in play.

I don’t know all the answers to these problems but these giant corporations that run Facebook, Twitter and Google all have to take some responsibility for how their platforms have been misused.

And we citizens of the United States have to come to grips with our civic duty if this nation is to endure in any form.

James Pilant

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The Responsibility Edition


The Responsibility Edition

It’s a badly broken system when overseas hackers can make tons of money gaming the American political system. Facebook and Google want to claim that the lies and click bait that has been marketed across their services are not their responsibility. But when it has become obvious that that holocaust deniers have successfully gamed the system and democracy is literally under threat from manipulation from inventors of fake news, trolls and foreign intelligence services, you have to say enough. We’re a little passed the situation of a high school principal being upset by what his students were saying. We’re at a place where well organized organizations are poisoning the marketplace of ideas and the highways they drive to do this are Google and Facebook.

Google, Twitter and Facebook bear some of the responsibility for the misuse of their platforms and a re-classification of their status to that of publishers is probably necessary for them to assume the mantle of responsibility.

Here is short selection from an article in the Guardian called – Stephen Fry: Facebook and other platforms should be classed as publishers

Stephen Fry has called for Facebook and other “aggregating news agencies” to be reclassified as publishers in order to stop fake news and online abuse spreading by making social media subject to the same legal responsibilities as traditional news websites.

Outlining his “reformation” for the internet, as part of the Hay literary festival’s programme to mark the quincentenary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, Fry accused social media platforms of refusing to “take responsibility for those dangerous, defamatory, inflammatory and fake items whose effects will have legal consequences for traditional printed or broadcast media, but which they can escape”.

“One thesis I could immediately nail up to the tent flag is to call for aggregating news agencies like Facebook to be immediately classified as publishers. At the moment, they are evading responsibility for their content as they can claim to be platforms, rather than publishers. Given that they are now a major source of news for 80% of the population, that is clearly an absurd anomaly,” he said.

“If they, and Twitter and like platforms recognised their responsibilities as publishers, it would certainly help them better police their content for unacceptable libels, defamations, threats and other horrors, that a free belief in the value of the press would, as a matter of course, be expected to control.”

Stephen Fry is right and we should support the re-classification of these Internet services as publishers.

James Pilant

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The Ethics of Kindness – ‘Pay it Forward’


Today we have a guest post by my colleague, Steven Mintz, the Ethics Sage. Read and enjoy-

And as always, favorite, like,

The Ethics Sage

re-post, and visit my friend’s home web site.

The Ethics of Kindness – ‘Pay it Forward’

Not everyone associates ethics with kindness. We think of it as part of good manners or civility. Yet, treating others with kindness evokes The Golden Rule – to treat others the way you want to be treated. One example of how we can take tangible actions to treat others with kindness is to “Pay it Forward.”

April 28 is ‘Pay it Forward’ Day. Pay it Forward is a global initiative that exists to make a difference by creating a string of kind actions felt across the world. The idea is even small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can literally change the world for the better. The goal of the day is to encourage us to embrace the power of giving; show each other that we care; make a difference in someone’s life; and encourage others to do the same.

Paying it forward is often linked to performing ‘random acts of kindness.’ The philosophy of random acts of kindness is altruism, a selfless concern for others. It is to urge people to be kind to each other, especially those they don’t know, without any specific reason. The purpose is to get others to return the kindness to start a chain reaction of good deeds.

The concept of doing a kind act for another person has always been on our ethics radar but really took flight after the movie, “Pay it Forward,” was released. The movie tells the story of Trevor McKinney, a 12-year old student, who is given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world forever. It has to be a major favor that the recipient cannot complete themselves. Trevor does a favor for three people, asking each of them to pay it forward by doing favors for three people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds.

When was the last time you thought of paying for the food of the customer behind you in line at a window check out, even those you don’t know? Back in August 2014, a customer at a drive-through at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, paid for her own iced coffee at 7 am, and also asked to pay for a caramel macchiato for the driver behind her, who then did the same for the next customer. People ordered a drink at the speaker. When they pulled through to the next window, the barista, Vu Nguyen, 29, leaned through and said with a smile that their drinks had already been paid for by the person in front of them. Would they like to return the favor? By closing at 10 pm, 378 people kept the chain going.

Kindness is an essential part of being a good person – an ethical person – because it is a selfless act and one done to better the lives of others. Kindness drives compassionate people and defines who they are. Kind people care about others – their feelings and well-being. It is the essence of treating others the way we want to treated — The Golden Rule of Ethics.

So, what can you do to practice random acts of kindness?

  • Feed a neighbor’s dogs while they are out of town so the dogs do not have to go to a kennel.
  • Offer to cover the shift of a co-worker who has a family event to attend.
  • Volunteer at a food bank or a religious institution.
  • Organize a charitable event in your community.
  • Write a thank you note (don’t send an email) to someone who did something kind for you.

In this age of radical political and religious ideologies, corporate swindling, and the harsh realities of social media, where we live our lives so publicly, people are desperate for moral direction. By practicing random acts of kindness, we send the message that we have a responsibility to enhance the well-being of others and contribute to the betterment of our communities and society.

Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage. Visit Steve’s website at: stevenmintzethics.com.

The American Airlines Culture Failure


The American Airlines Culture Failure

Just a few days after we saw United Airlines drag a passenger off a flight, another airline, in this case American Airlines, generated social media controversy, and this is notable for several reasons. Apparently, there was a dispute over a stroller and a mother of two got hit perhaps with the stroller by an “American Airlines Staff Member.” And in this case, a passenger intervened and offered violence to the offender. I’m very proud that he did. It might be more economically efficient to allow airline employees to humiliate and injure passengers at will but I am still a man and an American and I don’t like being pushed around and I don’t like seeing other people pushed around. You can see the video by clicking on the link below.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/travel/2017/04/22/american-airlines-video-incident-raw.cnn

The American Airlines Culture Failure

There is something wrong with the ethics culture at these two airlines, but probably all the airlines in this nation have a problem.

I was doing a little background research and came up with an article from 1999 called – Airline industry still behaves like oligarchy, despite deregulation from the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Here’s a relevant quote from the article:

A case in point is the issue of who is to blame for the increased delays in air travel. The airlines blame the FAA and the weather. The FAA in turn blames the airlines for impractical scheduling. The real problem is that most of the airlines are not customer focused. They focus on operational efficiency and treat most of us as human freight. In fact, they keep raising the price for us as human freight because we are a lot more inconvenient than the freight they carry in the belly of the plane.

How hard is it to solve this on-time issue with a true “customer focus?” It seems to me there’s a very straightforward solution to this problem. It does, of course, require a focus on the customer–something sorely lacking in the airline industry.

Notwithstanding United Airlines’ ads to the contrary, I can find no evidence of a change in how they, or any other airline, appear to view customers. Passengers just seem to be an impediment to on-time travel.

This little piece of the an article written by Michael Gooz almost a decade ago is still dead on in explaining what the problem is.

And the problem is simple – for the airlines people don’t matter. There are too few airlines so even if you don’t like one if you want to get somewhere you’re going to have to use it and in that market, you can treat people anyway you want. You can overbook, you can throw paying passengers off the plane and if a little violence is necessary to keep the passenger in line, we’re going to have a little violence.

There is a solution. You may not have any leverage with the airline but it is a federally regulated industry and they have to answer to the government. Your one voice may have no effect on the industry but the federal government can outlaw overbooking, regulate when you can be deplaned (or re-accomodated), and they can penalize the airlines with millions in fines for delays and injured passengers.

When corporations get too big for humans to affect individually, the only response that remains is joint action.

James Pilant