In a recent media article on the quality of education and curricular changes at our university (elimination of remedial courses), a high-ranking administrator asserted that no changes to any credit-bearing courses would be made. However, I have an internal memo from this same administrator demanding that new, easier, credit-bearing courses be developed by our department and others, so as to facilitate graduation by the student population in question.

I'm at a large public university in the U.S. I do not yet have tenure. Should I respond to this, perhaps anyonymously?

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    1) Sure you have colleagues at your university who are interested in this issue. Some of them might even have tenure. What do they think? 2) Go on the job market yesterday. – Alexander Woo Apr 18 '17 at 18:34
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    You might wish to leak the internal memo confidentially to a reliable journalist. – aparente001 Apr 18 '17 at 19:57
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    Presumably the administrator asserted that "no changes to any credit-bearing courses would be made" in the short-term, which is entirely compatible with the a medium-term decision to "[develop] new, easier, credit-bearing courses." Thus, the public statement was true... Albeit, political. – user2768 Apr 19 '17 at 13:01
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    @user2768: It seems corrupt to be granting college degrees to people lacking 6th- or 8th-grade skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. More broadly, I feel like taxpayers, policy setters, prior degree holders, and future incoming students should not be deceived about the quality of education and preparation being given to our graduates. – AimWrack Apr 19 '17 at 23:11
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    @AimWrack, thanks for the clarification. It now sounds like the administrator blatantly lied. If I were in your position and I had concerns over the quality of my institute, then I think I would consider moving. I wouldn't see an ethical need to highlight the lie, because it seems to be relatively minor, in particular, the administrator seems to be claiming that the institute is better than what it is, but surely all administrators do that? Thus, highlighting the lie might look like you're being petty, which is bad for your reputation. (I fully acknowledge that the issues might go far deeper.) – user2768 Apr 20 '17 at 8:35

no changes to any [current] credit-bearing courses


new, easier, credit-bearing courses be developed by our department and others

is not precisely a contradiction. Though in the context of academic integrity, it's certainly misleading to the public.

You didn't ask, but your ethical duty is first to your own behavior. So long as you're not creating/teaching courses which don't merit their credits, you'll be OK on that front. I wanted to mention this because it's simple, and it provides a good contrast for the answer to your question:

Your ethical duty with respect to the administrator's misleading public statements are a responsibility shared by the entire group of university staff. Note the distinction between something that's your personal responsibility and something that's the responsibility of a group you belong to. Because this is a group responsibility, you need to try handle this as a group. If the group disagrees with you, and you feel the lie was significant enough, your only real option may be to leave the group or leak, but that should definitely be a last resort.

Things do first:

First talk to other professors (especially tenured ones) and see how they feel about it. Maybe you missed some things and they can point those out. Or maybe everyone agrees with you and you can approach this collectively which will help avoid costing you your job.

IFF you have a good enough relationship to do it effectively (and avoid getting yourself fired), it would also be best to talk to the administrator personally. Be sympathetic to their need to portray the university in a positive light both in words to the media and in graduation rates, but share your unease with the contradiction in message. Listen to their response, try to understand their viewpoint and how they rationalized their behavior as acceptable. It sounds like the best case would be for the administrator to change the internal behavior to match what was shared with the press. Persuasion is hard, but it really is the best option.

If other professors feel you're overreacting, but have no new information or can't convince you things are fine, and if you can't reach an understanding with the administrator in private, then you have to decide whether this is ethically compelling enough to require yourself to risk your career. There's no hard and fast answer for that. You have to weigh your ability to be successful against your need to not associate with people who aren't flawlessly honest/upright.

If you do decide you must risk your job, I would recommend roughly this order of operations:

  1. Internally (but public to other professors), point out the contradiction as kindly as possible and ask the administrator for a solution. Don't threaten to leak or quit yet. Explain you want to understand and keep things internal.
  2. If your concerns are dismissed, either resign quietly or leak the memo AND all internal communications about it to journalists you believe will be able to present the story well. And expect to be fired.

It's hard to predict what effect this may have on future employers, as that will mostly depend on the fallout and how well you're able to convince future employers both that it was the right choice and that nothing they do is likely to require you to do it again. Try to be as complete and fair to the other side as possible as that will help somewhat. Remember that the goal here isn't to expose a liar or shame the university, but to promote academic quality and accountability.

It sounds like a tough position to be in. Good luck.

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    Large public universities in the US generally have Faculty Senates or Councils some similar faculty committee that has representation from all the colleges within the university and which serves as some sort of advisory body or voting body for policies. As an untenured faculty (and new kid focusing on your own department) you might not know much about that side of faculty service. Talking to senior faculty who are currently in those bodies might be useful to get some advice or perspective on how best to proceed. – Carol Oct 12 '17 at 19:34

A semi-non-answer: in my experience, "high-level" administrators are constantly making PR-oriented statements externally, which, if taken literally, are wildly false... but are sufficiently ambiguous so that it would be hard to "prove" a deliberate lie. The details of wording of your situation strike me as typical in this regard.

To my mind, the real question is about what this translates into "on the ground". That is, apart from persiflage, what will really happen? If the reality amounts to a significant degradation of standards (although that, too, is riddled with difficulties-of-concept) then one might take action... though more strategically than merely pointing out the hypocrisy of central administration.

That is, I think everyone either explicitly or implicitly recognizes the inevitable and typical hypocrisy of central administrations in universities. The operational question is about the degree of it, and how it actually plays out in reality. It is typically difficult to anticipate this...

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Should I respond to this, perhaps anonymously?

People are different (e.g. see the quotations from Grigori Perelman). There is no single answer to your question. In my case, and this is NOT any advice, I always acted very straight, and I have payed dearly for this. I am happy about it anyway, I like it. However, and now this is an advice, try to follow common sense. For instance, if you decide to react ethically, i.e. adequately, then perhaps you should line up a new job for yourself, just in case. Etc.

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