Compared to strictly regulated industries like health care or food preparation where every detail of your work is covered by myriad regulations, professors seem to work independently with a great deal of freedom to make their own decisions. In reality, especially with the increasing emphasis on academic accountability, independence can be more illusion than fact. All academic staff at universities, including professors, part-time instructors and graduate teaching assistants must follow codes of conduct. Violating these codes can result in disciplinary action or dismissal.
On the most basic level, professors have an obligation to obey federal, state and local laws. Many universities perform criminal background checks as part of their hiring process, and explicitly list commission of felonies as grounds for dismissal. Financial integrity, including not misappropriating university funds, is also an explicit part of most faculty codes of conduct.
Sexual Harassment and Fraternization
Faculty codes of conduct include rules concerning sexual harassment. Not only is sexual harassing colleagues, staff or students forbidden as it would be in other businesses, but often universities have additional rules concerning fraternization with students. Many universities explicitly forbid faculty from having romantic relationships with students, even if consensual, due to the unequal power relationship involved. Also, such relationships may create perceptions of favoritism and could evolve into a hostile environment if the relationships end badly.
Discrimination and Equal Opportunity
Faculty members are usually required to avoid all forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and disability. They're normally required to go beyond the minimal legal requirements, making sure that in curriculum design and the classroom, all students have equal access to learning and that a non-hostile environment is created to facilitate learning. This means designing and implementing courses that are sensitive to the varying learning needs of a diverse student body.
Faculty codes of conduct normally address academic issues explicitly. They set out in details the obligations of faculty members to meet with their classes, grade work fairly and promptly, hold office hours and conform in their teaching to course descriptions and syllabi. Faculty, like students, must follow rules concerning academic honesty, and follow other rules of scholarly integrity within their disciplines including not faking data. Any outside work or consulting must be reported to supervisors, and must not create conflicts of interest with the faculty members teaching or scholarship.
- Simon Fraser University Policies and Procedures: Code of Faculty Ethics and Responsibilities
- Inside Higher Ed: Degrees of Gravity
- Portland State University: PSU Faculty Code of Conduct
- Pennsylvania State University -- University Ethics: University Policies
- American Association of University Professors: Statement on Professional Ethics
- Rhodes College: Fraternization Policy
- University Affairs: Sexual Relations Between Students and Faculty
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.