Ensuring Honesty in Higher Education
By Edward W. Miles, Associate Professor of Managerial Sciences
It happens all too often at some universities: athletic programs engage in cheating, dishonesty and other practices that embarrass the university.
Much of the root cause of these unsavory revelations is based in a desire to win, a desire for prestige and the need for money to support that quest for prestige.
Many people on the academic side of the university believe such embarrassments are limited to university athletics. In my research, however, I found that these three elements in college athletics — a desire to win, a desire for prestige and a need for money to support that quest — are also present on the academic side of universities.
For example, universities want to claim they have the best qualified freshman class on earth and a faculty that publishes in the most prestigious journals. The money needed to support goals such as the academic quality of students and faculty publishing in the most prestigious journals is significant as is the funding needed to support a top-flight sports team.
One new addition to the academic scene in recent decades is the ranking of various programs and units: law schools, business schools, MBA programs, programs to train opera singers and many more.
In general, professors are not keen on having outsiders judge the quality of what they do. Universities have historically been skeptical of outsiders believing they have the wisdom to understand and judge their work. Even for internal “academic program review,” professors acquiesce with a similar enthusiasm as submitting oneself for a colonoscopy.
However, highly publicized rankings by outside parties can play into the hand of prestige seekers. Universities run on prestige, and, if there is a competition, they intend to compete and to win.
I assert that with the goals of winning, seeking prestige and attaining funding to seek prestige, the academic side of universities is now in the same boat with the athletic programs.
For the same reasons, we must be diligent to ensure the chase for academic rankings does not promote cheating, dishonesty and other practices that will embarrass universities when they inevitably come to light.
Edward W. Miles is an associate professor of managerial sciences in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. His article, “Lessons University-Based Business Schools Should Learn Vicariously—Rather Than Through Experience—from University Athletics,” was published in a recent issue of Economics and Business Review.