About the framework code of university ethics and deontology. Questions, perplexities

Announced in the Higher Education Law 199/2023, the Code of University Ethics and Deontology (CcEDU for short) was put up for public debate on January 26.

Marian PopescuPhoto: Personal archive

From the law, we learn that it is the work of an advisory commission of the ministry, called CNEMU: the National Ethics Commission of University Management. I am looking for something about CNEMU. On the edu.ro website, the information is from 2017 when it was established and when it did not have the “national” degree. CNEMU does not have a functional website. At the address whyro 2021 is the most recent, among the few phrases as public information. Worse, Law 1/2011 still appears on the website as a reference act. Law repealed by the new Higher Education Law 199/2023. Even when it was called CEMU, the site at that time either did not work or was not up to date.

What does “frame code” mean? The interpretations, philological, but, above all, legal, differ: it seems to be, however, a Code placed in a legislative framework. But a Code can also be a legislative act not only normative. And so it is since – we don’t know why because no one has explained so far – it will be approved by a Government Decision. The ministry was not enough. Similarly, the Codes of University Ethics need to be approved by the Ministry. The university senate was not enough. Centralization and the need for control and monitoring are already evident. Structure hierarchical, bossy, order of the Education system is, it seems, the only legislative paradigm in which decision-makers see the educational act, its professionals, its beneficiaries.

CcEDU covers two areas that have something in common, but also something specific: Ethics, respectively, Deontology. Most of the time, they are mixed in this proposal, so that it is, more than once, difficult, especially for those who are not in the habit of reading such documents, to appreciate the effectiveness of the provisions in the text. The language, wooden, does not help much.

In the Explanatory Note accompanying the project we find, on page 1, that “the provisions….impose…”. On page 2, we are told of “the actors involved in university ethics processes“. My emphasis: again, the abuse of the term “actor” that casts a strange halo over the artistic profession should cease in official documents. Because we should, by way of consequence, use related terms: director, stage, setting, text, prompter, etc. Which an official, serious text will not do. The wording (actually: what does it mean?) “ethics processes” is vague. We do not know. The same page talks about “increasing the confidence of the actors involved in the educational act”. Beyond the nagging abuse of “actor,” we’re missing the gist here: trust what? We do not know. But on page 3, at 3.2., something appears that is really worrying: the social impact of the new Framework Code is reserved only for academic communities. Whoever thought/wrote it does not realize that the social impact is much greater when it comes to bad conduct, intellectual theft, depreciating trust in science, etc. But maybe that’s asking too much.

And now let’s look a little more closely at the Framework.

The first thing that jumps out at art.7 is that the Framework Regulation of the University Ethics Commission is approved by the Ministry of Education. Why? Why not the Senate as the supreme decision-making body of the university? The logic of the legal/administrative act would justify this since the CcEDU itself should be approved by Government Decision (GD).

The will of the decision-makers to authoritatively centralize Education is only reflected by this example: a code of ethics is the attribute of the community, here the university, which is accredited by law, including by the Constitution, to develop its service to society by putting into practice what it knows to do what is best: to research and transmit what is fundamental for the world of today and tomorrow. Why couldn’t the university itself validate its own Code of Ethics? Since – we will see immediately – there would be, flimsy and few, mechanisms of checks and balances in case of slippages?

But, surprise! These mechanisms, devices or national councils they are, for the most part, skinned, shells beautifully polished by bureaucratic language. From the provisions of the new Framework Code we clearly see not only that the court that had its specific role, the National Ethics Council, is now left in the Ministry of Research’s court. We now clearly see, as Edupedu has already documented, that CNATDCU is devitalized in the exercise of essential duties regarding doctoral plagiarism. By eliminating the provision regarding self-reporting, CcEDU seriously amputates the societal mission of the university. University ethics committees can legally be blind now: even if the media reports, analyzes, exposes academic theft or other forms of lack of ethics and integrity, the committees can be appeased. Not May it’s their job.

CcEDU has articles with redundant content, such as art.14, art.16, art. 17 or, in Chapter IV, art. 26 when it comes to violations. Some of their formulations are easily laughable due to the verbal cliché stripped of content. For example, among the deviations included are those “which violates the protection of rights…” (lit. “a”) or those “which encroach dignity…” (lit. “b”). How will “injury” and “mutilation” be analyzed by any commission? In the document, there are provisions repeated even though they appear in the Higher Education Law. (see Section 6 on incompatibilities). Drafting negligence also appears in art. 14 where a repetitive string, from “a” to “f”, could have been put concisely. This article also produces the novelty that it establishes norms of ethics and deontology for different categories of people and different categories of activities as if they are traded according to status: teacher, student, administrative staff, management, etc. In alphabetical order, these ethics and deontology norms from the Framework Code include…norms in teaching and research activity; in the activity of communication, publication, dissemination and scientific popularization; in exercising the duties of management functions; regarding respect for the human being and dignity; applicable to students, doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers or other categories; specific to the canonical and dogmatic principles of the respective cult that do not contravene the above norms (!). They have all been put here, in this article 14, whether or not they are related to this CcEDU.

Art. seems defective to me. 29, para. 2 where the listed sanctions concern different categories not only as status, but also as authors of academic “crimes”: you have the same sanctions for an undergraduate student as for a PhD student or postdoc researcher! The non-differentiation, taking into account the seriousness and typology of academic offenses, as observed by IRAFPA (www.irafpa.org), for example, which also proposes a solid Analysis Method, will pose problems to ethics committees.

Finally, let me also note the Annex of this CcEDU, entitled “The set of reference standards of university ethics and deontology in university management”. Here, it is clear that whoever “designed” the text does not know what “objective” means, confusing it with types of activities. The annex is a table with three columns: Standards, Performance Indicators, Risks. When you try to understand why a standard is expressed by the indicator called “objective”, something is wrong. When, instead of brevity, we have narratives that begin, in fact, in the style of the measures, with “establishing…” etc., it is clear that the bureaucratic mentality, sometimes biased (the old language, duh!) emerges not shyly.

So the Set has only one “general objective”: “Increasing the degree of implementation of integrity measures at the level(sic!) of the higher education institution”. It is achievable through four “specific objectives”: Fundamental principles; The relationship with the academic community; resource management; Reporting and Compliance. Each specific objective proposes standards, indicators and risks. The annex is, as they say, to art. 25, in the service of CNEMU. As, by the way,the entire Framework, as provided by the Law on Higher Education in art. 154, paragraph 5, letter “d”. About CNEMU we saw how operational it is. The law provides CNEMU, see art.154, paragraph 2, with a Register of experts, appointed, of course, by the minister, but also through consultation with the National Council of Rectors. The designation of members takes into account three criteria: competence (in what?), “willingness to activate”, ethical clean academic CV. The role of these experts is twofold: when they offer technical points of view regarding the conflicts of interest of some of the members of the commissions, when they offer “specific expertise” when “this need has been identified within the national commissions”. As we know, identifying the need is not…simple. Especially when she doesn’t need to be identified.

Whoever worked on this proposal does not know much about Ethics in general, ethics and academic deontology in particular. It’s a type of document made for ticking. Because he “does not see” in real academic and research life, of the distortions of interpersonal or authority relations. It mixes different levels of conception, terms and concepts that are not clear in the context of the respective paragraphs.-Read the rest of the article on Contributors.ro

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