Faculty Selling Virtual Texts to Their Own Students: An Ethical Problem Facing Universities!

Posted: May 23, 2010 in Miscellaneous Reports

Case Study- Moral Reasoning

By Weam Al Dakheel

The enrichment of the information exchange nowadays is highly unrestrained. From web surfing, Internet, online books, libraries, and wikipedia all are forms of information technology that creates new ethical problems.
In universities, the information exchange can be limited between two parties, students and instructors. But the ethical problems occurring can affect one party than the other. One of these ethical problems raises a question: should university faculty sell virtual textbooks and course material to students in their own courses?

Utilitarian approach

To solve this ethical issue using the utilitarian approach we should:
1. Identify the various courses of action available to us.
2. We ask who will be affected by each action and what benefits or harms will be derived.
3. We choose the action that will produce the greatest benefits and the least harm because the ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.

According to that “everyone is obligated to do whatever will achieve the greatest good for the greatest number”. The greatest numbers in this case are the university students taking the course. The greatest good and benefit is the course material since it is produced from the instructor himself who is more knowledgeable about the content of the course than anyone else and have a duty to help students learn. However, if the professor decided to sell his virtual texts and material to his students according to this principle it is an acceptable act since he is giving proper and accurate material and information of the course for “greatest number” which is for the students.

Rights approach

In deciding whether an action is moral or immoral using the right approach, then, we must ask, does the action respect the moral rights of everyone?
According to the rights approach, everyone has the right to do whatever he or she wants. Based on that, the instructor has the right to sell his virtual texts and the students have the right to decide whether to buy or not.

The basic principle of Immanuel Kant: “Everyone is obligated to act only in ways that respect the human dignity and moral rights of all persons.” In this case, there is a conflict of rights, because the positive right (welfare) of the instructor to do what he wants with his one’s property (virtual texts) is considered a negative right for the university principle and regulations. Since it is prohibited in almost all universities to involve acts between the students and their teachers that don’t contribute learning and educating methods and has something to do with materialistic aspects. But still, in the right approach Kant emphasizes if an individual (instructor) has a moral right, then it is morally wrong to interfere with that right even if large numbers of people would benefit from such interference (university).

Kantian approach

According to Kant’s golden rule: “do unto others as u have them do unto you.” In this case, it is morally incorrect for the professor to take such an action since it is prohibited case under the university’s regulations. If this professor was a dean, administrator or an officer in the university he wouldn’t have accepted the exchange procedure between the students and the teacher.

Virtue approach

According to the virtue approach, or virtue ethics, virtues are habits because once they are acquired, they become a characteristic of a person. Based on the “virtue ethics”, there are certain ideals, such as excellence or dedication to the common good, toward which we should attempt and which allow the full development of our humanity. These ideals are discovered through thoughtful reflection on what we as human beings have the potential to become.
If these students want to become “better” individuals in their education career and achieve good grades they should buy the virtual texts from their instructor. Aristotle said: “a person can improve his or her character by practicing self-discipline, while a good character can be corrupted by repeated self-indulgence.” In this case the instructor should demand nothing from students that isn’t instrumental in their learning. Even if the decision was made between the instructor and the students to sell the course material, he/she shouldn’t take advantage of a power imbalance and sell low quality materials with large profit especially if it is a big course in the number of students. Therefore, he will be considered a corruption to the idea of “community.”



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