3. Responsibility to students.

Linguists should minimize harm to students and should model and promote ethical behavior.

Linguists should acknowledge the help of students in research and should compensate students fairly for their assistance.

Sex, marital status, race, ethnic background, social class, political beliefs, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, and other such distinctions are irrelevant to academic and scholarly achievement. Linguists and programs should not discriminate based on them.

Sexual liaisons between instructors and students may lead to exploitation and conflicts of interest. Instructors and students should avoid such involvement when an instructor is in any way responsible for a student’s success.

Linguists should ensure that their students receive instruction in the ethical practices appropriate for their field.


19 Responses to 3. Responsibility to students.

  1. I tend to think a lot more could be included here… such as a commitment to fair evaluation of student work, willingness to correct errors in evaluation (e.g., mistakes in grading tests) when they occur, and (at the same time) conducting the evaluation process in such a way that it does not reward complaints or turn grading into negotiation. (Students who negotiate grades should not get higher grades than students turning in the same level of work and not arguing about the grade.)

  2. Barbara Partee says:

    1. Many (all?) universities have policies for affirmative efforts to help those with disabilities, in effect mandating ‘positive’ discrimination. I’m not sure it makes sense to call disability ‘irrelevant’ to achievement — I don’t think that exactly captures what was intended.
    2. The sexual liaisons clause is more or less OK, I suppose, but it doesn’t address the harder question about what to do when they nevertheless happen (sometimes leading to happy marriages; they aren’t unequivocally a bad thing). Maybe there should be some sort of ‘nepotism’ statement applying to both student-teacher relations and colleague-colleague relations, about when and how to recuse oneself from participating in decisions that affect a permanent or temporary partner?

  3. anonymous says:

    IMHO, the “sexual” in “sexual liaisons” in the 4th point is inappropriate, since it isn’t relevant for the point; any liaison (or “love affair”) may lead to exploitation and conflicts of interest (in both direction btw) whether there is sex involved or not.

    Of course the borders are inherently fuzzy in such problems. Just falling in love with a student or a instructor could lead to the same problem even if the other party doesn’t share that feeling. Furthermore, even a close only “friendship-like” relation between an instructor and a student may lead to conflicts of interest.

    However, I can just repeat that the “sexual” seems to be inappriated. It sounds as if sexual relationships are inherently more problematic or worse than a romantic affair without sex.

  4. The affirmative action paragraph should be phrased as a moral command, not a statement of fact. As written, it is factually wrong. It states that (for example) age is irrelevant to academic achievement, while it is actually true that very few people under the age of, say, 6, are capable of serious academic work. Similarly, some disabilities *do* affect academic achievement, even though we might wish they didn’t.

    I’d suggest this:

    “Linguists have a responsibility to evaluate and treat students primarily on the basis of demonstrated
    academic merit and secondarily on the basis of their
    potential contribution to human knowledge.
    We do not discriminate on the basis of sex, marital status, race, ethnic background, social class, political beliefs, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and age.”

  5. David Cranmer says:

    While it is necessary that we not discriminate, some cultures in which linguists will work do make some of these discriminations. In such situations we need to consider what takes priority, respect for our students or respect for the culture we want to work in.

  6. Re: anonymous about sex.

    Yes, non-sexual relationships can bias person A towards or away from person B. But, sex is a good point to draw the line between approved and inappropriate behavior. It is a fairly sharp and objective boundary, and all the people involved tend to notice that it happened.

    Personally, I would tweak and strengthen the language. If it’s really love, it can wait until the marks are handed in.

  7. Asier Alcazar says:

    I would drop the sex part altogether on the grounds that the issue only comes when it is not mutual love, but rather sexual harassment on one side. Neither love nor sexual harassment are exclusive to our discipline. The department of education has legislation covering sexual harassment.

  8. Asier Alcazar says:

    I would like to hear from colleagues about the role of students as data analysts/annotators. In language variation work, for example, data gathering and annotation is a substantial part of the research being accomplished. Say a student or group of students contributes half or all of the data gathering and annotation. The professor performs the statistical analysis and its relation to past and current research, and the write-up. Would the student contribution be acknowledged in a footnote? As in “I thank my language variation class of Fall 2006 for their final projects”. This I find to be an ethical issue, though other colleagues may rightfully disagree.

  9. Aaron Broadwell says:

    I have a concern about ethical treatment of students that is not addressed in the draft statement, and that an academic freedom issue.

    In particular, I don’t think it is ethical for a student’s funding or a student’s position in a graduate program to be endangered by taking an unpopular theoretical position. Nor is it ethical for students to be pressured to suppress data or refrain from citing certain sources.

    I don’t mean to imply that these are common problems in linguistics, but I have heard a few cases of all the things just mentioned.

    As a first attempt at saying something like this, I think the statement ought to include a phrase along the following lines:

    “Linguists have a responsibility to encourage independent and original thought in their students. Students should have the freedom to choose and change their own research topics.”

  10. Geoffrey Sampson says:

    The passage about “Sex, marital status, race … (etc.)” reads to me like a statement about general political principles, which some nations (and some individuals within a given nation) will agree with in whole or in part, other nations (and other individuals) will not, but which has nothing to do with linguistics as such. I can’t believe (to take an extreme case) that the fact of my being a linguist ought to be relevant to whether I believe homosexual activity should be legal.

  11. Sonja Lanehart says:

    I most certainly agree that all scholars should acknowledge the work and contribution of students to their scholarship. My concern is that not enough of this done and this statement needs to be more explanatory. For example, it’s not just that students contribute to a faculty’s research–the student may actually be doing the research. I also think something needs to be addressed in terms of students whose dissertation work is co-opted by faculty. That is, some faculty require students to add them as co-authors to their dissertation research–and the student isn’t always the first author. I personally don’t think faculty should be co-authors on dissertation research; however, if they are, it should certainly not be as first author. I think there are nuances to this situation that need to be exposed and expounded on to better empower students and inform faculty.

  12. anonymous says:

    The section on relationships between instructors and students should be omitted altogether, especially since it does nothing to determine who is an “instructor” and who is a “student.” What about a professor at the LSA Summer Institute and another college professor attending her class? What about a professor in a different department? What about a long-term fieldwork project? What about a pre-existing relationship in which one (non-linguist) partner decides to enroll in the other partner’s linguistics classes?

    Many universities already have mandates in place about student-teacher relationships. Within the university it is more obvious who is an instructor (e.g. a professor) and who is his or her student; and the purpose of such mandates is–while draconian–clear: to avoid grade-tampering. If a particular university wants to issue rules about relationships within its jurisdiction, fine. But the professional society should not be making mandates about what kinds of relationships its members can have with one another.

    As for the line about possible exploitation, how does LSA define exploitation, and how can we determine when it has occurred? Is a relationship non-exploitative only if it leads to marriage?

    I agree that there are many more important questions about ethical behavior between students and instructors than just those that deal with sex and love. The writers of the statement should spend more time on the issues of attribution of scholarship that Alcazar, Broadwell and Lanehart raise here, and less time worrying about “extracurricular activities”.

  13. Eric Hyman says:

    In general I lke the whole ethics statements. I agree with the tenor of Greg Kochanski’s comments; indeed I would strengthen Section 3 by changing all the “should”s to “must”s. And maybe some of the “should”s in other sections might also be changed to “must”s.

  14. graduate student in descriptive and documentary linguistics says:

    With respect to “responsibility to those we study, responsibility to students, responsibility to the public”…

    I have watched a substantial number of classmates produce lengthy, detailed descriptive grammars of previously undescribed, endangered languages after arduous fieldwork and spending eight to ten years for a doctorate. And yet, all of these linguists have left academia due to the serious lack of jobs, and the dissertation grammars never see publication.

    This presents an ethical dilemma on several levels: native speaker consultants and communities invest incredible amounts of time and hard work, but do not receive back the expertise they have helped create; graduate students put in eight to ten years of extremely hard work for jobs that do not exist; and the public has lost the money that it has put into training researchers through granting agencies like the NSF, which fund the fieldwork.

  15. Bjorn Jernudd says:

    1) focus on research and delete some of the clauses in this section, or
    2) add ‘educational settings’ to the first section.
    Also, the paragraph on “Sex, marital status, …” is not specific to linguists, and can therefore be deleted. I hold the same for the paragraph on “Sexual liaisons…”.

  16. Hayley E Smith says:

    Any removal of the “Sex, marital status…” paragraph would seriously weaken this section. I do, however, support something closer to Greg Kochanski’s wording.

    The “Sexual liasons” section is highly problematic. We would be remiss in not addressing this issue, but this clause is too weak and the definition of student too vague to be useful. It would be more effective if it were to be replaced or supplemented with a statement on sexual harassment.

    This section in general has too much focus on the “extracurriculars” and not enough on the real problems facing students in the field. As a graduate student, I’d like to see more focus on the importance of mutual respect and fair attribution.

  17. John says:

    As a relatively new graduate student in linguistics, one of the thing I’ve heard from other students is lack of effort by linguists at universities in promoting their students’ future employment inside or outside of academia.

    The most likely cause is that linguistic professionals are simply repeating what they have learned they expect the students themselves to play survival of the fittest. But it seems like a detriment to the profession that has numerous applications inside and outside of the classroom to not promote what it teaches through the promotion of its students.

  18. anonymous says:

    Perhaps there is a need to state explicitly somewhere in the Ethics Statement that linguists come under the same constraints against sexual harassment – of both students and human subjects of study/research – as are binding on academics and professionals in general. There is otherwise a worrying trend that has been noticed towards a disturbingly cavalier attitude towards refraining from sexual harassment and demand for “quid pro quo” sexual favors, particularly among linguists operating in regions of the world where the usual professional and/or legal injunctions against sexual harassment and exploitation commonly observed and enforced in the United States and much of the Western world cannot be ordinarily enforced, at least without the risk of long and painfully drawn out legal process at an international level. I would like to emphasize that international Honorary Members of the LSA *must* be made particularly aware of their ethical responsibilities as linguists working often under the banner of the LSA in their professional capacities (since occasionally serious lapses of ethical conduct have been noticed amongst them especially in connection with sexual harassment and coercion, even if rarely, in international settings). I also suggest that the first sentence of Section 3 of the Ethics Statement be expanded to include “refrain from sexually harassing or otherwise coercive conduct towards students” as well.

  19. Nassira Nicola says:

    One small, but important, addition to paragraph 3 – “gender” in addition to “sex.”

    Also, with regard to anonymous’ reservations about the phrase “sexual liaisons” – would “sexual and romantic liaisons” be an improvement?

    [thanks to the Ethics Committee for all your hard work on this, by the way – this is shaping up to be a document we should all be proud of.]

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