Promoting Academic Integrity: The MSU Context
As a scholar, researcher, and student, you are probably familiar with the concepts and goals of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). At MSU, The Graduate School is largely responsible for offering RCR training through a series of workshops and online resources. These efforts to develop resources, offer training, and in general, establish a culture of quality research and scholarship are both a response to federal funding requirements and an expression of institutional values, but they also play an important role in the ethical formation of graduate students as future faculty members. As faculty, we will be expected to fulfill three main roles: teaching, research, and service. If we look at the available resources in light of these three roles, it would seem that there are definitely enough efforts focused on the development of virtuous researchers, but perhaps not enough resources are devoted to fostering integrity in the service and teaching roles. Developing teaching integrity is just as essential in growth toward our future work.
What is Teaching Integrity?
When I have mentioned “teaching integrity” in conversations with colleagues, a common response has been: do you mean teaching about integrity, or teaching with integrity? I believe teaching integrity can be both of those things, and furthermore, that the two are interdependent; however, I will focus on the latter. Let’s start with integrity. What do we mean when we say someone acts with integrity? Integrity involves wholeness or consistency, so to act with integrity is to behave in a way that is consistent with your moral values, in other words, your beliefs regarding what it is to be a “good person.” While we all have particular variations on the idea of what it is to be “good,” there are some basic things we agree on (which is why we are able to have laws, policies, and social norms).
With regard to teaching, we already have many institutional policies and norms in place that define “good teaching”; for instance, we are required to deliver course content as described in the syllabus, to grade fairly, to communicate our grading policies to students, and to offer office hours. However, there is more to integrity than simply following the rules or fulfilling the basic expectations of our roles as teachers. If integrity is about moral consistency, then in order to teach with integrity it is not enough to check tasks off a list; we are expected to be guided by our moral compass, but also, since we are part of a teaching community, our actions should be informed by the values of our peers, our disciplines, and our institutions. Teaching integrity refers to good teaching grounded by individual and collective moral values.
Can We Promote Teaching Integrity?
The next question is, of course, can we teach and foster teaching integrity like we do research integrity? The literature on teaching integrity in the legal, medical, and business professions offers some useful insights; Daly (2003) offers some helpful starting points, from the perspective of business management. First, integrity is necessarily developed in the context of a community; we learn how to behave with integrity from others, and it is a habit that requires a lifetime of practice and refinement. Second, organizational values and practices are often different from those expressed in written policies and norms. Often, these practices are what set the tone for the organization. In this sense, a first step toward teaching integrity is perhaps a careful assessment of whether or not we are acting in accordance with our own principles as well as the values of our institution. We can start by asking what good teaching means to us. Then, we can reflect on the role of values in our current teaching practices. For instance, if we value diversity, is this reflected in our course content, as well as our day to day teaching practices? Also, where do our personal values overlap with disciplinary and institutional values? Answers to these questions can inform our concept of “good teaching,” and help us think about teaching integrity more systematically.
We’d Like to Know: How do you define teaching integrity? Are personal, disciplinary, and institutional values influential in your teaching practice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
Daly, M. C. (2003). Teaching Integrity in the Professional Responsibility Curriculum: A Modest Proposal for Change. Fordham L. Rev., 72, 261.
The Graduate School, Michigan State University. Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship 2014-2015 Workshops. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://grad.msu.edu/rcr/.
Monica List is a doctoral student in the Department of Philosophy, pursuing graduate specializations in Ecological Food and Farming Systems, and Animal Studies, and an Inside Teaching Fellow. She currently serves as an academic advisor for the Bioethics, Humanities, and Society Specialization at MSU. Her research focuses on animal ethics and welfare, environmental bioethics, and feminist philosophy of science.