Similarly to how gerrit asked "Is there any research on the prevalence of academic theft?", I am wondering if there are any surveys or studies on the forms and prevalence of "systemic corruption" (definition below) in Academia. I refer in particular to corruption where people systematically ignore the rules, sometimes for "good reasons" (i.e. not for their direct benefit), but in such a way that it somehow justify others' abuses, ignoring the same rules for their own benefit.
As a member of Academia (in particular while being in Latin America), I would like to make my modest contribution to reduce the prevalence of such corruption, if only by showing the example and teaching about it to students. Are there any documentation around which can help in such an endeavor?
I list below Wikipedia's definition and some examples of such systemic corruption, along with more details about my motivation in asking such a question.
Definition of Systemic Corruption
The wikipedia page about Corruption defines various types of corruption, among which "Systemic corruption, defined as
corruption which is primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. It can be contrasted with individual officials or agents who act corruptly within the system.
Examples of systemic corruption in academia
(disclaimer: some of those I witnessed, and some others I was suggested to perform by the hierarchy and/or secretaries):
Requesting money for one item and using it for another one. If requesting travel or salary money for person A so that it can be used to pay person B because the rules prevent or complicate paying to B, it can be done for reasons that both consider "good" (e.g. sending a student to a conference) but open the door to such rules to be abused (e.g. paying someone for a job they did not do).
Requesting a letter of invitation for a longer period of time than the actual visit, "to simplify things". When justifying a (paid) trip to various places/countries in the same trip, for distinct research projects, one could consider to ask a single invitation letter for the whole period rather than 3 distinct ones for the respective periods, to "simplify things" for the administration which has to decide whether to allow the trip or not, but it opens the door to people having the university to pay for their (extended) vacations.
Adding colleagues as co-authors to publications "because they need it" or asking colleagues to add one as a coauthor. [A colleague was recently suggested to do so by the director of their department to compensate their lack of publications after a period of intense administrative responsibilities, arguing that "everybody does it" (which I strongly disagree with).] One can be "generous" with co-authorship as a general principle, (among other reasons, because measuring each contribution is problematic, and expecting the n co-authors of a publication to contribute exactly the same would be complicated to enforce), but it seems to be one step on the path to adding (a) co-author(s) after the article has been completely redacted as part of a "collusion deal" to increase publication numbers.
Shortening classes in agreement with the students without informing the administration. It is hard to maintain attention for 1h30, so it is a common practice to take a break in the middle. I saw some instructors deciding for the class to start 30mns late (arguing that "the students are always late anyway) and teaching only for 1h, and others ending the class 30mns early. It might make sense in term of student attention, but it might also open the door to abuses.
Skipping classes (in agreement with the students) without informing the administration. Some universities explicitly require professors to name an official replacement for their teaching duties during periods for which they have been allowed to travel (and check that the teaching duties of such replacement do not intersect with those of the traveling professor). When setting-up such "replacement", it seems common to request a "virtual replacement" where the replacement is just in name, and the students are "freed" of classes during the corresponding period. Such practice might seem justified for short periods of time (e.g. 1 week), but could be abused by being used for much longer periods of time, in a way detrimental to the student's learning.
Self-Plagiarism: when using a similar technique in two (or more) distinct publications (for distinct problems), duplicate the technical proof with minor corrections rather than "refactoring" it into a technical lemma in the first publication, to be cited in the later ones. Failing to do so might be just blamed to bad redaction, but it can be abused in order to make a publication "more technical" and novel than it really is.
Those are just examples which come to mind or which I witnessed, I am sure that there are many others. I am curious as to how prevalent such examples are, and of resources to help (young and less young) academics to
- convince their peers at an institution to ban/reduce/fight some of such practices, locally considered "normal" and wide-spread, with arguments that such practices are globally NOT considered that normal, and definitely not that wide-spread in academia at the world level; or at least
- convince students and young researchers NOT to adopt the local customs, with some arguments about what is accepted and what is not accepted in other institutions (where they could land a job in the future).
Motivation for the question
I witnessed various instances (some benign, some more grave) of such "systemic corruption" in academia in Latin America, but this gives only anecdotal evidence. I discussed it with some international colleagues, which also only gives anecdotal information about their prevalence:
- (some) colleagues from Latin America do not consider as corruption per se (for them, "corruption" rather corresponds to what the wikipedia page refers to as "Petty Corruption" and "Systemic Corruption"); while
- (some) colleagues from Europe react by saying that such corruption exists in Europe too (with which I would agree although I think they do not understand the difference in prevalence) and
- (some) colleagues from North America condemn such corruption (but admit that some of it exist also in some "bad" places in North America).
I understand at least some of the mechanisms behind such corruption: the people practicing it are mostly doing so in order to get around inadequate legislation and not for direct personal benefit, a type of legislation that they cannot change on their own. While understandable, this is highly detrimental to society in various ways:
- in some cases the amount (mental, time, money, etc.) energy wasted in multitudes getting around a single "stupid" rule by out weights by far the amount of energy which would be required to design and switch to a better rule, if only people could coordinate;
- in all cases, having most people disobeying a rule (without abusing it) opens the door for a few individuals to abuse disobeying such a rule (each decides to which point to disobey the rule), which is later used to justify even stricter rules, which more people will try to get around of in order to simply doing their job, in an endless vicious cycle.