Integrity Matters
January 08, 2003

Learning tests the ethical borders

Question: (A-001) A professor at our university is using his students to do research for which he is charging a company consulting fees. Shouldn’t he either be paying the students or donating the work? Am I wrong to see this as unethical? – A concerned administrator.

Response: Dear university administrator: yes, you may be wrong to see this behavior as unethical – without more information. Professors in some academic institutions are allowed, even encouraged, to conduct research and provide consulting expertise. Depending upon the nature of this professor’s contract with the academic institution and the client, there may be no conflict or interest.

Students provide lots of “low cost” services to institutions of higher learning.

One clear example is major college football which generates large amounts of cash through tickets sales. These athletic activities can provide generous compensation packages for certain instructors and coaches. Perhaps your question is addressing the legality of such activities.

In that area, please consult legal counsel.

If your concern is that students should be paid for learning techniques and processes that could later benefit their own careers (post education) – that could raise yet another question: Is the “work” of the students only “billable” because the professor supervises the interpretation? Is this another form of “sweat equity”?

In this instance, integrity and morality do not seem to be on the “block”. Judgment may be. In the meantime, enjoy sports activities and special grants that enable institutions of higher education to improve salaries and benefits for those who choose to serve our future generations through academic service.

JIM BRACHER is founder of the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership in Monterey. His column, "Integrity Matters," appears Wednesday on the Business page. Readers are invited to submit questions on business-related ethics and values. Please write in care of INTEGRITY to The center's Web site is

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