Hurray for the new academic ethics code

Unfortunately, untrained university instructors very often conclude that a radical position on the politics of the day is just the ticket for a lively class hour.

University of Haifa. (photo credit: ZVI ROGER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
University of Haifa.
(photo credit: ZVI ROGER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Jerusalem Post reported on March 25, 2018, that “The Council for Higher Education has called on academic institutions to adopt a controversial code of ethics that includes a clause prohibiting faculty from promoting political agendas and boycotts of Israel in classes.”
Good for them. But not for the reasons dominating the debate. The important issue is not academic freedom or constraint.
In the vast, clanking machinery which comprises most countries’ education systems the only people who receive no training whatsoever in the craft of teaching are university instructors.
As a young person trudges toward tenure she discovers very early on that the quality of her teaching is of zero importance toward reaching that goal. (Unless of course it has been decided to fire the candidate. In that case the hapless scholar learns, too late, that a “double secret” committee, as Dean Wormer says in Animal House, has been reviewing her work and has found her pedagogy lacking.) Students are mainly obstacles on the way to the library and tenure.
Yet few experiences can equal the discomfort of staring out at a class filled with students who would rather be donating blood than suffering through your lecture. And a university classroom is stuffed with the best and brightest. There are no discipline problems, no parent-teacher nights, and the students have freely elected to major in the subject dearest to your heart. There should be no excuse for poor teaching.
Yet your lecture forks no lightning. If it were not for the thumbs twiddling cellphones under the arms of desks you might think that you were peeping out at an oil painting.
Is it any wonder that in a situation like the one described an untrained but sensitive person would flail away, perhaps unconsciously, reaching for something, anything which might stop that dead look in those students’ eyes? Unfortunately, untrained university instructors very often conclude that a radical position on the politics of the day is just the ticket for a lively class hour.
And because she has not been tutored in the art of asking questions and interpreting student responses which should in turn lead to more questions this university instructor mistakes the sudden fire in some students’ eyes for passionate interest. Which it might be, but it might also be something else. So more political commentary leaks into her classroom, and then more and still more.
Once a year, in addition to the drudgery of other meaningless work like the innumerable university committees one reluctantly attends, a senior member of the department visits her class and writes a hasty note for her file (because the only issue of any importance is her research, after all). This august personage has not been trained in the techniques of classroom observation, and may or may not be a perceptive teacher with something useful to say. It is all chance, happenstance, luck of the draw.
The quality of the education thousands of Israeli students receive from the hundreds of Israeli university instructors is a kind of lottery.
If we insist that teachers be taught how to teach and how to love teaching, and that the quality of their teaching is important to their careers as teachers, we might not need this new academic ethics code. Gifted teachers are absorbed by something far more important than foisting political opinions on the paying customers.
Until then the proposed code makes sense.

The author is a retired high school principal and teacher, who also taught for over 20 years at the Hebrew University as an adjunct teacher in various departments.



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