Review: A Professor's Duties: Ethical Issues in
Markie. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994.
by Willie Young, Graduate Student Associate, TRC and Department
of Religious Studies
A Professor's Duties, Peter Markie outlines the duties and obligations
constitutive of professorial life. He seeks to provide a justification
for both teaching and research duties, and is by and large successful.
However, by describing academic ethics simply as a collection
of obligations, Markie ignores the central importance of relationships
to successful teaching and conceals the communal nature of a vibrant
and healthy academic life.
focus on obligations shapes his understanding of the goals of
teaching. On Markie's view, good teaching brings students to true
beliefs justified by evidence, or "guiding students to knowledge"
(p. 25). He rightly emphasizes that students "know" the material
only when given classroom space and time for understanding, so
that good teaching may require imparting less information. However,
Markie's focus on the results of inquiry in both teaching and
scholarship risks leaving the process of teaching and learning
in a secondary position. Ultimately, his focus seems to be on
the information conveyed, rather than how teachers convey it.
The limits of his approach become apparent in his discussion of
grading; for Markie, grading is justified only insofar as it helps
students to choose a successful career.
the second half of the book, contributors' essays spell out the
specifics of these obligations-grading, scholarship, and respect
for students' autonomy. While most contributors share Markie's
assumptions regarding the priority of duty and obligation for
academic ethics, Elias Baumgarten's essay, "Ethics in the Academic
Profession: A Socratic View," singularly emphasizes critical inquiry
and questioning, thereby de-emphasizing the results of the learning
process. Baumgarten argues that a focus on questioning allows
space for the "critical anguish" (p. 163) central to students'
reflection on humanistic issues. He accepts the perceived relativism
of this approach as part of the university's development of societal
"gadflies" who do not tacitly accept values and information. Baumgarten
opens the possibility that teaching students how to think, rather
than what to think, is the true goal of university teaching. In
a sharp departure from Markie's position, Baumgarten argues that
a certain "professor-student relationship" is required for good
While this emphasis on relationships departs markedly from Markie's
duty-centered ethics, both Baumgarten and Markie reject friendship
in the academic setting. They perceive friendship as preferential,
exclusionary, and open to abuse by the professor due to authority
and unequal power relations with students. While these dangers
are possible, it is important to recognize that Socratic teaching
was directed toward a certain type of friendship, a friendship
of wisdom (philosophia) open to strangeness and uncertainty (see,
for example, Plato's Apology). Such friendship, I would argue,
attends to Markie's duties and obligations as necessary but hardly
sufficient conditions for good teaching. One must respect one's
students, evaluate their work, and engage in scholarship because
one wishes one's students to share the practice of critical inquiry
and reflection essential to the academic life; only by practicing
these intellectual virtues can one hope to travel this path with
one's students. Teachers, ultimately, are friends in the best
sense when they help students to be more truly themselves. While
Markie's work clarifies the minimal conditions for good teaching,
the relational aspects of teaching require more reflection if
we are to truly understand what makes for ethical teaching.