General aspects on academic ethics

Author:Cristinel Ghigheci
Position:Senior Lecturer, Ph.D. - Transilvania University of Brasov, Faculty of Law
Pages:123-129
SUMMARY

The academic field is one that raises many ethical challenges and needs a different approach in this regard. Being an activity field with many particularities, with diversified human relations, with the involvement of a large number of people and with often divergent interests between them, the academic field needs an ethical approach. To better understand the concept of ethics, one should start from the etymology of this word. The definitions of ethics are much more numerous and each one emphasizes one or more aspects considered as defining for it. As a common element of these definitions, one can remember first of all that ethics is about human behaviour. The law and the regulations cannot cover the vastness of these inter-human relations and they manage to solve the multitude of problems that may arise in the relations between teachers, in the relations between students or in the relations between teachers and students. No matter how well the codes of ethics are developed, they will not be able to regulate all of the issues raised by the academic life. That is why greater emphasis should be placed on making each person aware of the importance of acquiring an ethical way of being and behaving in society. The human factor is the one that can ensure the smooth running of the activity in the academic environment.

 
CONTENT
General aspects on academic ethics… 123
GENERAL ASPECTS ON ACADEMIC ETHICS *
Cristinel GHIGHECI **
Abstract: The academic field is one that raises many ethical challenges and needs a different
approach in this regard. Being an activity field with many particularities, with diversified human
relations, with the involvement of a large number of people and with often divergent interests
between them, the academic field needs an ethical approach. To better understand the concept of
ethics, one should start from the etymology of this word. The definitions of ethics are much more
numerous and each one emphasizes one or more aspects considered as defining for it. As a common
element of these definitions, one can remember first of all that ethics is about human behaviour. The
law and the regulations cannot cover the vastness of these inter-human relations and they manage to
solve the multitude of problems that may arise in the relations between teachers, in the relations
between students or in the relations between teachers and students. No matter how well the codes of
ethics are developed, they will not be able to regulate all of the issues raised by the academic life. That
is why greater emphasis should be placed on making each person aware of the importance of
acquiring an ethical way of being and behaving in society. The human factor is the one that can
ensure the smooth running of the activity in the academic environment.
Key words: Private Law, General Theory of Law, academic, Ethics.
Introduction
Ethics is generally considered to be a field of philosophy, but not one that is
strictly limited to theoretical speculations, but which has profound practical
implications in many areas. Although the rhythm of today's life almost completely
excludes the appetite for speculative, however, the need to identify practical
solutions to the behavioural problems raised by the increasingly complex social life
required the development of this science. There is more and more discussion now
about applied ethics in different fields, such as professional ethics, press ethics,
trade ethics, academic ethics, and so on.
While religious life occupied an important place in society, there was no need
for separate discussions about human behaviour, as religious precepts contained
answers to many of the ethical issues people were facing. With the secularization
of states, there was a need for norms that would regulate human conduct in a
deeper way than the law does, but which are no longer related to the relationship
with divinity. There are many situations that cannot find a regulation in the law,
because they cannot fit in such a general pattern, but they need a particular
Law Review special issue, Decembre 2019, pp. 123-129
124 CRISTINAL GHIGHECI
approach. However, solving all these particular problems can only be done by
referring to an authority, which is in a better position to decide.
The academic field is one that raises many ethical challenges and needs a
different approach in this regard. Being an activity field with many particularities,
with diversified human relations, with the involvement of a large number of
people and with often divergent interests between them, the academic field needs
an ethical approach. The law and the regulations cannot cover the vastness of these
inter-human relations and they manage to solve the multitude of problems that
may arise in the relations between teachers, in the relations between students or in
the relations between teachers and students.
1. Ethics. Morality. Terminological aspects.
To better understand the concept of ethics, one should start from the
etymology of this word. Often it is identified within the notion of morality, but
there are also opinions according to which the terms "ethical" and "moral" would
be different, in the sense that the first would refer to the behavioural aspects
manifested in relations with others, while the second would refer exclusively to the
report of each person with their own conscience. Other authors consider that
ethical norms would have their source in reason, being developed by thinkers,
philosophers, while moral norms would have their source in divine revelation,
being elaborated by representatives of different religions1.
Etymologically speaking, the two terms have the same meaning, both the
Greek "éthicos" (éthos) and the Latin "mores" (by which the Greek term was
translated into Latin) having the meaning of "manners". In the beginning, the
Greek term ("ethicos"), as well as the Latin term ("mores") did not have only a
positive meaning, by which all kinds of customs, morals, both good and bad, were
designated. The Latin expression “O tempora! O, mores!” (O, times! O, morals!) by
which Cicero wept, in the 1st century BC, the bad morals of some Roman
politicians of that era. Over time the terms ethical and moral have come to
* The article was prepared for the International Law Conference, "Current Issues within EU and
EU Member States: Converging and Diverging Legal Trends", 3rd edition, held in Braşov (Romania)
and organized by the Faculty of Law – Transilvania University of Braşov on the 29th and 30th of
November 2019.
** Senior Lecturer, Ph.D. – Transilvania University of Braşov, Faculty of Law,
ghigheci.costel@unitbv.ro.
1 It has been argued that ethics is the moral of philosophers, it is philosophical, while morals
appeared closely related to philosophy at the beginning; ethics has its source in human nature and the
body of knowledge in human reason, while morals have their source and knowledge in Revelation,
emphasizing the superiority of morals, since the reason alone cannot reach a discovery, a total
knowledge of moral laws. See: N. Mladin, Command and freedom. Lectures on Orthodox morals,
Cluj-Napoca: Renaşterea, 2013, p. 45-49.
General aspects on academic ethics… 125
designate exclusively positive behaviour of the person, this being an example of
semantic evolution of a word, with the evolution of social consciousness.
Apart from the two terms mentioned above, which seem to have a similar
content, the term "deontological" is also used with a meaning close to them.
Regarding the relationship between these terms, it was stated that "there is a
distinction, both etymological and of content, between ethics and deontology:
deontology is that part of ethics that studies the norms and obligations specific to a
professional activity, while the notion of ethics has a broader sphere, including
both the study of norms and obligations, as well as the study of primary notions
that justify the establishment of these norms and obligations. Ethics, in addition,
requires an assumption by the legal body of the standards and norms entered, and
not a settlement of them by a state body as in the case of deontological ones.
Likewise, the violation of the ethical norms attracts a moral responsibility, whereas
the violation of the deontological ones attracts a legal responsibility, namely a
disciplinary one”2. As is clear from this distinction, the concept of deontology is
associated with imperative norms, the disobedience of which can lead to legal
liability of the person (disciplinary, civil, etc.), while the notion of ethics is
associated with looser rules of conduct, which leaves margin of appreciation
greater to the recipient and do not attract in case of violation more than a vote of
blame from the community, and not a form of legal liability.
This is the meaning that we can derive from the etymology of the word,
considering that the term "deontology" has its root in the Greek  / déon,
which means "what is needed, what is due, what is right"; in short, "debt", which in
conjunction with  / logos - study, theory, study discipline forms the word
"deontology", which would designate debt theory; more precisely, the theory of
duties, that is, of the conscientious, internalized, assumed obligations, on the basis
of which man has to manifest.3
Also in relation to the distinction between ethical and deontological norms,
also pointed out that «a code of ethics is a means of correction imposed
downwards which prohibits "unacceptable behaviours, sanctions are negative,
disciplinary", While "a code of ethics has the role of stimulating the behaviour
desired by the professional body itself, the "sanctions" should be positive (such as
prizes, decorations, advances) for reaching or exceeding the objectives. The only
real sanction must be the blame, the deterioration of the reputation within the
professional body, possibly the exclusion from the professional association.4
2 C. Dnile, I. Copoeru, Between disciplinary sanction and moral conviction. Ethical tools and
procedures in the Romanian judicial system, p. 20, available on: http://cj.md/uploads/danilet-copoeru_
sanctiune-disciplinara-si-convingere-morala1.pdf, consulted on: 16.12.2015.
3 Idem, p. 3.
4 Idem, p. 21.
126 CRISTINAL GHIGHECI
2. Definition of ethics. Essential features
Morals has been defined by an author as a set of judgments regarding good
and evil, intended to drive people's behaviour.5 In another opinion, morality
consists of an inner disposition to recognize the law, to obey it and to fulfil it.6 In
another attempt to define the science of ethics it was said that this is a socio-human
discipline, guiding and prescriptive, based on the principles of deliberation and
choice, aiming at the nature of personality and life, character formation, study of
morals.7
The definitions of ethics are much more numerous and each one emphasizes
one or more aspects considered as defining for it.
As a common element of these definitions, one can remember first of all that
ethics is about human behaviour. Man's actions or inactions are the only ones that
can be analysed from the perspective of their ethical value, because only man is
able to freely assess the consequences of his actions and can choose which attitude
to take in each case. The behaviour of machines or robots, however evolved they
may be, or the behaviour of other beings belonging to the animal kingdom could
not be subjected to an ethical analysis.
Secondly, it can also be distinguished as an essential feature of ethics, the
opposition between good and evil, seen not only from the perspective of the one
whose action is analysed, but especially from the perspective of the other people.
An act of theft can be good for the person who carries it out, but it is bad for those
around it, for the community as a whole and therefore cannot be considered
ethical.
Third, the purpose of the distinction between good and bad actions, within
ethics, is to guide human behaviour in the direction of good. This analysis is not
made purely for the theoretical purpose, but also for a practical purpose, of the
good coexistence of people in a smaller or larger community. That is why ethics is
not considered a descriptive science, which describes phenomena in nature such as
biology, chemistry, physics, etc., but is a normative science, which describes
human life as it should be (at just like law).
3. The origin of ethics. The sources of ethical norms
Ethics was necessary because the selfish nature of man would have made
living in society impossible. Of course, there are people for whom the interest of
the community or those around them is primal for their own interest, but these are
5 C. le Bihan, Important Issues of Ethics, Bucharest: Institutul European, 1999, p. 4.
6 G. Fonsegrive, Contemporary morality, Revue des deux mondes, august/1911, p. 812, apud. I.
Bunea, Phenomenology of moral consciousness, Cluj-Napoca: Limes, 2010, p. 8.
7 M.M. Pivniceru, C. Luca (coordinators), Deontology of the magistrate profession. Contemporary
landmarks, Bucharest: Hamangiu, 2008, p. 2.
General aspects on academic ethics… 127
exceptions, and a society cannot lead by exceptions. The vast majority of people
need rules to guide their behaviour, to clearly indicate what is good and what is
bad, and these rules have been laid down over time, taking into account the
common experience of the human society.
Humanity’s consciousness has evolved over time, now focusing more on the
rights of the individual than in the past. Specialized institutions were created to
defend the rights of the individual in the face of state actions, and these actions had
the effect of making the contemporary society aware of the special value that man
represents. A side effect of this promotion of individualism was that, with the
promotion of the individual's own interests, each person's concern for the interest
of others decreased. In other words, the selfish spirit is more pronounced
nowadays, because each individual is taught from childhood that his rights are
more important than the rights of others. As a result, from the collision of all
individual interests, the current need arose to establish rules of conduct that would
make living in society possible.
To the question "What is the basis of ethics?" Several possible answers were
tried, without being able to establish with certainty which of them is the closest to
the truth.
Some thinkers have considered that ethics are based on a feeling, considering
that it is the love of others, or the fear of shame of others, or sympathy (Adam
Smith), or mercy (Arthur Schopenhauer).
Others (Immanuel Kant) believed that feelings are too unstable to stand up to
the rules of ethics, because a man can love someone today and hate him tomorrow.
Therefore, he believes that ethics is based on reason, which tells man that he must
always do his duty.
Others consider that it is society that has created and imposed over time the
ethical norms, which were born out of a need for people to live together. Being acts
that are useful for the normal conduct of life in society, this current has been called
utilitarianism.
Others argue that the apprehension of moral values it is not exclusively
intellectual, rational, but exclusively sentimental, affective, but it is a spiritual act in
which the human person as a whole, with its deep and specific characteristics, is
engaged.8
The sources of the ethical norms in the academic field are formed mainly from
the ethical codes elaborated at university level. But these codes of ethics cannot
regulate all the problems of this nature that people in the academic environment
can face. They should be completed with the practice of ethics commissions, which
should be made known to all interested persons. Last but not least, even those who
are part of the academic environment can develop different rules of ethics,
8 I. Bunea, op.cit., p. 17.
128 CRISTINAL GHIGHECI
following the daily practice, regardless of the concrete form in which these norms
will be imposed.
4. Violation sanction of ethical norms
An important issue raised in relation to ethical norms is the sanction of their
violation. In general, when discussing ethical or moral norms, it is considered that
each individual sets his own standard and that it is his free choice whether he
always wants to respect it or not. In our recent society, it does not seem to count
too much on the moral standard of each person or on the individual's observance
of ethical norms. That is why the impression was created that there would be no
sanction in case of non-observance of ethical norms or that this would have no
consequence.
In one opinion it was argued that "Any Code of ethics is enacted by the
authorities to regulate the general principles and rules that characterize a
profession, therefore the minimum standards required and mandatory for its
exercise. Violation of ethical rules can and must be disciplined, as a rule, by these
authorities themselves.”9 This opinion was born precisely because of the
widespread impression that the violation of ethical norms has no concrete
sanction.
Is it a good solution, however, for non-compliance with ethical rules to lead to
disciplinary sanctions? Given the uncertainty of the ethical norms, the unlimited
character of the concrete situations that require the adoption of a more or less
ethical behaviour, achieving confusion between the ethical and the disciplinary
field could not lead to a better understanding of the ethical norms by their
recipients. On the contrary, this would lead to increased confusion and rejection by
individuals of ethical norms.
For this reason, the opinion that the field of ethics should not be confused with
the disciplinary field has acquired a wider dissemination, and the violation of
ethical norms should lead to the application of a different kind of sanctions than
the disciplinary sanctions. Of course, some ethical norms, the most important ones,
could be regulated as disciplinary violations, but this does not solve the situation
of the other ethical norms, the most numerous ones, which would not be
sanctioned as disciplinary misconduct. In the latter case, the solution was proposed
to set up some ethics councils or other bodies, separated by the disciplinary bodies,
to find the deviations from the norms of ethical conduct.
9 C.A. Domocos, Considerations regarding the crime of domestic violence provided by art. 199 of
Criminal Code. Deontological aspects common to the profession of judge and lawyer, available on:
https://www.universuljuridic.ro/consideratii-privind-infractiunea-de-violenta-in-familie-prevazuta-
de-art-199-cod-penal-aspecte-deontologice-comune-profesiei-de-judecator-si-avocat/, consulted on:
16.12.2015.
General aspects on academic ethics… 129
Thus, in connection with the sanctioning of deviations from the professional
ethics, it was argued that "for violations of conduct there must be a distinct body
that is meant to apply disciplinary sanctions: this may be a Senate of a professional
association or another internal regulatory body of the profession, and the violation
only entails sanctions at the level of the profession, such as banning the association
or exclusion from the association.”10 A body distinct from the disciplinary one,
which would find the deviations from the ethical norms, could keep the record of
all the concrete cases that required the adoption of solutions and would have
benchmarks to adopt the best solutions. Also, the recipients of ethical norms would
have, in their turn, some concrete benchmarks, after which they will be able to
guide their behaviour in different situations.
However, because there are persons for whom the rules are not voluntarily
accepted in the absence of concrete sanctions, so that there is no risk that the
deviations from the ethical norms will remain without any consequence, the
finding by this body can be adopted as a disciplinary deviation of repeated
deviations from the ethical norms or the explicit refusal of the person to obey the
norms of conduct generally accepted by the members of the group.
In the academic environment there are ethics committees within the
universities, which can analyse the deviations from the ethical norms without
imposing disciplinary sanctions.
Conclusions
Academic ethics is a burgeoning field that will certainly find its place in our
academic life. The codes of ethics and the practice resulting from the activity of the
ethics commissions will have to be brought more frequently in the discussion of
the people involved in the academic environment, in order to be more easily
assimilated. However, no matter how well the codes of ethics are developed, they
will not be able to regulate all of the issues raised by the academic life. That is why
greater emphasis should be placed on making each person aware of the
importance of acquiring an ethical way of being and behaving in society. The
human factor is the one that can ensure the smooth running of the activity in the
academic environment. Even if it is much easier to adopt an ethical code than to
change some mentalities, if the concerns in this area will not go beyond this stage,
there are little chances of achieving visible effects in this area.
10 C. Dnile, I. Copoeru, op.cit., p. 11.