INTEGRITY AND INTEGRITIVE ACTION
Now, I should say something about the words in my title. I need to do this not only because one or more of the words I have used may raise an eye- brow but also because talking about them will help to clarify the subject I will be addressing. I have chosen to use the word 'integritively,' even though its adjectival root, 'integritive,' is not to be found in several well- known dictionaries, because it does a better job than alternatives such as 'honestly,' 'earnestly,' or 'virtuously,' of conveying the sense that what I am talking about is something that needs to be done with integrity - that the doing of it should be 'marked by integrity' (Oxford English Dictionary, (n.d.), integritive). The Scylla and Charybdis we need to steer between, abdication and zealotry, are extremes that jeopardize good faith efforts to promote integrity; either pretty much guarantees that we will not reach our destination/achieve our purpose. The former rears its ugly head when, for one reason or another, we fail to see to it that serious ethical violations are met with serious consequences, which itself has serious consequences (e.g., a growing sense that 'ethics-talk' is empty, i.e., mere prattle). The lat- ter also has serious consequences, as for example, when overly zealous enforcement of rules entails results that are widely regarded as simply absurd, which encourages the thought that what we're about is silly rather than serious. In either case, then, ethics and integrity come to be seen as a trifle; a fool's game, frivolous, a waste of time. Put another way, whether we run up on the rocks or are sucked into the whirlpool, the upshot is severe injury or worse to the project, as if only a fool could believe that a man could indeed be a knave.
I will focus attention here on efforts to promote integrity within the
academy, that is, on promoting what is commonly called academic or educational integrity. I do this in the firm belief that what emerges from this discussion, though focused on the arena of teaching and learning, should have much broader application. Put another way, I begin with the assumption that what we are promoting when we promote educational integrity is not sui generis; rather, it is the same thing we would be promot- ing if we were promoting professional integrity, or integrity in government or business, for example. I will make use of several (hopefully) intriguing and revealing examples, and limited use of a case study. One upshot of this approach, given that the topic described so far is still very broad, is that it will be necessary to narrow the focus of the discussion further. Thus, I propose to concentrate here on the Charybdis of zealotry postponing a full-dress discussion of the Scylla of abdication for another time. The danger on the rocks won't be elided altogether, however, since the fact that there are dangers on both sides is key for understanding the serious challenges one faces as one strives to promote integrity integritively.
INTEGRITY, ETHICS, AND FIDELITY TO STANDARDS
Dictionary definitions of 'integrity' suggest that integrity is a matter of adhering to standards (Merriam Webster New International Dictionary, (n.d.), integrity). Sometimes it is said that such adherence to standards or values is 'uncompromising' (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, (n.d.), integrity) or that integrity is 'uncorrupted virtue,' 'free- dom from moral corruption,' or 'innocence, sinlessness' (Oxford English Dictionary, (n.d.), integrity). Honor codes seem to articulate this sense of what integrity is when, for example, they speak, as the Honor Code of the United States Military Academy does: 'A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do' (USMA, 2014). This mantra has been widely
embraced by schools and colleges,1 including the university where I work,
Clemson University, in what might be called simple paraphrase: 'As mem- bers of the Clemson University community … we shall not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing in any form' (Clemson University, 2014).
Much the same idea of adherence to or conformity with standards emerges from an examination of dictionary definitions of 'ethics' and, in particular, 'ethical' (Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, (n.d.), ethical; Oxford English Dictionary (n.d.), Ethical). This idea is, of course, familiar in discussions of the rule of law, which contrasts most sharply with the rule of individual men in its promise of consistency and freedom from the vag- aries of power and individual interest. With the rule of law, both governed and their governors expect, and the governors strive to attain 'congruence between the rules as announced and their actual administration' (Fuller, 1969, p. 39). The responsibility borne by those tasked with administering the rules is great - there's quite a lot at stake - and the challenges they con- front in fulfilling it are considerable. While the first point is recognized on all sides, the latter point about the challenges is frequently missed, and more often than not, when it shows up on the radar, the response to it is inade- quate, or worse, counterproductive. In this respect law and ethics are alike. In ethics the failure to appreciate the challenges is manifest in admonitions such as 'just do the right thing,' as if what that might be is always or almost always clear; or the suggestion that, so far as ethics is concerned, what one needs to know would have been learned in kindergarten (Fulgrum, 1989). In the law, more precisely with respect to adjudication, the suggestion that things are simple and straightforward is clear in the familiar but false dichotomy that speaks of judging as being a matter of activism, where 'acti- vist judges' inject ideology, politics or personal morality into their work, or simply doing the job, where judges do what they are supposed to, that is, apply, follow, or adhere to the law, as if doing that were simply a matter of completing a syllogism the major premise of which is the applicable material law (e.g., a statute).
There are several misconceptions of ethics. One widespread misconcep- tion begins with the thought (or the hope - perhaps it's a wish, in Freud's sense) that ethics is like geometry: Figuring out what one ought to do is something one can do in a mechanical fashion, that is, one can derive the answer to an ethical question by applying a few basic principles (axioms) and very simple rules of deduction. As in geometry, given the axioms and correct application of the rules of derivation, the answer one derives is most assuredly, indeed certainly, correct. If a wrong answer were to emerge, this would not raise a question about the axioms; rather, it would be the result of a logical error - a misapplication of a rule of derivation that could be pinpointed if one were required, as students in geometry are, 'to show one's work.' This misconception might be explained in terms of the syllogism, provided that we take for granted that our premises are cer- tainly true. Otherwise, since a syllogism can be valid but not sound, we would fail to capture the sense of certainty about the conclusion that is characteristic of this misconception of ethics. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. remarked on a similar conception - a fallacy, he believed - in the law. Roscoe Pound would later call this conception of adjudication mechanical jurisprudence and he, like Holmes, would flag the mistake in it as misidentification of law and logic. As if, Holmes would say, dissenters simply don't know how to do their sums; as if, Pound would add, adjudication did not require judgment.
The problems in the mechanical jurist's conception of adjudication are similar to the problems associated with what might be called a 'geo- syllogistic' (mis)conception of ethics. Both are, to stick with similes from Greek myth, like the siren's song in being difficult to resist and dangerous. The best evidence that these misconceptions are difficult to resist is how widespread they are. And the sense in which they are dangerous, or at least deeply problematic, emerges when, for example, we try to teach ethics across the curriculum or reveal the ethical dimensions of an institution's concern with academic integrity. It's also apparent in op-eds about life science technologies, stem cell research, and political debates and proposals about, for example, torture as an 'enhanced' technique of interrogation. It seems clear that we shouldn't tie our students to the mast. However, making them aware of the danger so that they, like Ulysses, can take steps to avoid being seduced by the siren's song, seems perfectly reasonable. Indeed, something along these lines would appear to be a salutary feature of an ethics across the curriculum program. Moreover, if I am right, it is critical to success in an effort to promote integrity integritively as well as to an individual's success in living a life of integrity.