Analysis

On the Ethical Implications of Professorship

In our troubled times, there exist many moral dilemmas that professors of higher education face on a daily basis. “University culture” has become a masquing term that is synonymous with a society where controversial topics are utterly one-sided; free speech is frowned upon and emotion is prioritized as opposed to objective truth and reason. It is in this environment that professors face a daunting task: to ensure they are wholly devoted to the vocation that is teaching. Professors should be unhinged; the ideas they present should open dual-pronged debate and their discourse civil. Intellectualism cannot coexist with a debateless society. This essay will venture to prove that, not only do professors face many moral predicaments throughout their employment, but they must cultivate a society of open-mindedness and scholarly conduct; this is what makes a professor virtuous, and therefore allows one to mold virtuous learners.

A solution to this crisis that so harshly plagues higher education can be found in the actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ commanded that His people should, in order to share in His light, in a sense, teach and instruct the ignorant (USCCB). This is a spiritual work of mercy. Christ, whose educational “telos” (Greek for “end goal”) is the salvation of His people, is not only the central figure of Christianity, but an educational revolutionary. These two verses from the Gospel of Mark tell us, “Whom [His disciples] when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. [15] Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it”(Mark 10:14-15, DRC). Children, though innocent and at a lower stage in their educational journey, should not be shoved into the dark and merely told to believe ‘x’ and ‘y’; there is more to our essence as humans than mere existence. God’s Word and Love extends to all, and the perversion of a wholesome education is therefore a degradation of the human person’s dignity. As beings endowed with a rational soul and capable of intellectual excellence, it is a threat to our human dignity to limit other persons from alternative perspectives. Rather, education must help the students flourish as desire by God, Whose Will is revealed in the actions of Christ.

Christ exhibits the very best educational virtues; He is more than just a man the people of Israel revered because of His intelligence. Christ was a man who sought to elevate His followers and students to excellence as opposed to merely instructing them as underlings. In the days of His Holy ministry, He was seen spending most of His time preaching. In the Gospel of Luke he proclaims to his disciples, “Even the very dust of your city that cleaveth to us, we wipe off against you. Yet know this, that the kingdom of God is at hand. [12] I say to you, it shall be more tolerable at that day for Sodom, than for that city”(Luke 10:11-12, DRC). A model of virtue, God Himself incarnated as a man had spoken directly to his people for the sake of education, and beyond that, mercy and compassion. Effectively, Jesus of Nazareth is living proof that nobody is inherently damned to a life of ignorance, especially ignorance of God’s light.

To elaborate upon how education can exhibit virtue, allow the following evidence ro serve as testimony. On Princeton University’s web page, it is cited, “The value of service is central to the mission of Princeton as a liberal arts university. It infuses the passions and pursuits of our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and is essential to how Princetonians serve the public good”(Princeton). A learning institution, especially those pursuing higher education, have an obligation to enlighten those who are a part of its community, but charitable service is also notable. One may venture to claim that a virtuous teacher is being charitable by prioritizing the welfare of their students as opposed to the perpetuation of individuals’ subjective views, to which I would agree with him; the gift of knowledge is among the greatest. It trumps indoctrination. Further, the National Education Association emphasizes the value of open-mindedness and reason in the section titled “Principle I: Commitment to the Student.” The second sub principle states, “In fulfillment of obligation to the student, the educator… Shall not unreasonably deny the student’s access to varying points of view”(NEA). Seeing as how the student is meant to be the most magnified entity of the classroom, if their pursuit of knowledge, an objective good, is hindered by an educator’s subjective viewpoint, they have been severely wronged. “University” has the prefix “universe” because it is all-inclusive; a free marketplace of ideas. Thus, any bastardization of this idea that may lead to socially-enforced censorship is an injustice. Continuing, the association also discloses how crucial it is that educator’s strive to be their very best for the sake of their students (NEA). This is not merely important, but one of the many elements which forms the bedrock that is the foundation for the students’ future.

In June of 2018, I was privileged enough to attend a mens’ only Christian philosophical seminar at Princeton University titled “The Moral Life and Classical Tradition.” At this seminar, I met three incredible philosophy professors: R.J. Snell from Princeton, Micah Watson from Calvin College, and most importantly in this paper’s context, John Rose of Duke University. Professor Rose was the professor who, for the five days of class, taught us students about contemporary matters concerning philosophy and theology; also ethics. When I asked Professor Rose whether he believes teachers are obligated to cultivate an environment of open and unhindered speech, he responded, “Yes and no. You must learn to draw a line between students taking offence for rightful reasons and taking offence for unfair reasons. It’s not always easy to know where to draw the line. Establishing charity and trust with students is important here because, if you do it, they will give you and each other the benefit of the doubt in these tricky situations.” Professor Rose’s response made me ponder the nature of free speech within the classroom; it is a force for good so long as the conduct of both the students and teachers remains scholarly, professional, and reverent of the common goal that is to become enlightened. Further, I asked Professor Rose what kind of leadership role he believes teachers to have, to which he responded, “‘Leadership’ seems like the wrong word because it sounds too business-like. I try to be an example of virtue—moral and intellectual—for my students.” In order to incentivize students to strive to learn more on a daily basis, one’s self must be a follower of this mindset. When asked how a teacher can mold virtuous learners, Professor Rose advised, “Be virtuous yourself!”

In the Gospel of John, the remarkably popular verse 3:16 professes, For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:16, DRC). Jesus Christ was not only the Redeemer of our sins and bringer of salvation, but a teacher. Above all other things, whether he be called a carpenter or merely a “poor senseless man” by those ignorant of His Word, Christ was undoubtedly a teacher. We are called to imitate the way He lived and preached throughout the years of His life and eternity of glory. Thus, it is not inherently positively ethical to be a teacher, professor, or mentor- it is a vocation whose patrons must practice it reverently and with great care. Therefore, to be a truly moral educator, one must be virtuous by cultivating scholarly conduct as defined in this paper.

 

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Saint Benedict Press, 2009.

“Code of Ethics.” NEA

“In Service of Humanity.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University,

“The Spiritual Works of Mercy.” Current State Laws Against Human Embryo Research, USCCB,

“When Did Cheating Become an Epidemic?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 July 2010,

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