My university has had some Issues over the years with ethical lapses of one sort or another, mostly involving biomedical faculty and researchers. Their occasional lapses result in an ever-changing set of university-wide requirements for ethics training for all faculty, researchers, and grad students.
I didn't mind this at first, and even volunteered to lead some of the ethics training sessions for grad students, as it was clear that there were some ethical issues that needed to be discussed with students: plagiarism of course, but also issues like authorship, data ownership, lab safety, etc. I also wanted the students to have access to resources for help with problems that might arise, or at least to know where to look for resources.
Faculty were initially required to attend 6 hours of workshops in ethics training. These workshops were completely useless. The people running them were not faculty, and had no experience with managing grants or people or labs or anything relevant to the topics being discussed. This requirement has gradually been expanded. There are some training activities we have to participate in every year, others every 3 years; some are online activities, some are in-person activities. All have been useless in a practical sense, and only have value in reminding us to take ethical issues seriously. If we don't get checked off for all the required ethics training activities, we aren't allowed to have grants.
If I were perfect and 100% in compliance with ethics requirements, I would have 4 different printers in my office, or I would have one printer with 4 different sets of ink cartridges and 4 sets of paper, and I would only print items for a particular project with that project's designated printer or printing materials. I would have all my office supplies designated by project as well, and would never use the X Project pen to write something related to the Y Project. I am not making up an obviously absurd situation -- this is what faculty were advised to do in one of the ethics sessions I attended. The person leading the session admitted under torture that she didn't really expect us to do this, but that she had to tell us to do it so that her responsibilities were covered and she wouldn't be to blame if we were busted by our funding agencies for using the wrong pen or printing supplies.
I am not a biologist; my scientific research does not involve human or animal subjects or their tissues or bodily fluids or thoughts or cultures or anything like that. Yet I am supposed to educate myself about policies regarding the Acquisition, Use, and Disposal of Human Bodies, just as an example. Is this a good use of my time? In fact (confession of ethical lapse!), I don't read those things. Instead, I peruse some of the nifty relevant things in the ethics training documents, like that I cannot use my NSF travel money to pay the difference between an economy airfare and a higher-class airfare. It wouldn't have occurred to me to do that, but I suppose there are those who gave it a try. So I check off the box that says I have read everything, but I do not print out the form to remind myself of all the important things I have learned. I don't know which printer to use.
Perhaps as more people acquire expertise with ethical issues in science and academia, the training activities can be better tailored for specific disciplines, but for now, these one-size-fits-all requirements and enforced workshops with talking head administrators seem to be generating widespread faculty contempt and loathing for ethics training requirements.
6 months ago