White Coat, Black Hat Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine

9Apr/111

The Ethicator: Am I Selling Students a Bill of Goods?

Welcoming the incoming grad students of 2011-2012

Dear Mr. The Ethicator,

I'm a graduate student at a large public research university that is facing severe budget cuts. While our TA-ships and other teaching gigs could never have been considered plum jobs, these days the university is thinking ever more creatively about new ways to squeeze extra work out of us. And not only this: the fate of our graduate program and our department is very much up in the air, as the university looks for ways to cut costs by closing programs and merging departments. No one knows exactly what's coming, but it doesn't look pretty.

The ethically murky area is this: every year, we recruit a group of new graduate students, flying them in from all around the country, and everyone pitches in to try to convince them to join our department. We did this again this year, but without exactly playing up (or mentioning) the real uncertainty about the future of the institution. Did we sell them a bill of goods? Either way, we knew it would hurt the department not to admit grad students for the coming year. In fact, if none of them were to join the department, it would likely be even easier for the university to shut us down.

Yours,

Reluctant Pitchman

Dear Reluctant Pitchman,

I'm sorry.  I'm having trouble getting past the part of letter where you tell me your department brings in a whole load of young, healthy research subjects every year, and all you do with them is make them grade papers.  Are you serious? What kind of business model is this?

I know you academics aren't known for your business smarts, but seriously, do you realize how much bigger your ROI would be if you hooked up with a drug study?  Better yet, find somebody testing an ADHD drug.  That way, you'll get pocket money, party medicine, AND some super-efficient graders who never get bored.  That, my friend, is what we call a win-win.

Look: I can tell you're one of the good guys, just doing your best to look out for the peeps. Good for you. But remember what the airlines say:  When that oxygen mask drops, you put it on yourself first.  Then you help the next guy.  Or, maybe you don't, because there's only so much oxygen on the plane and the other guy would probably hog it.  But anyway, the point is, you have to look after yourself.  Keep bringing them in, keep them working, and sleep well.

You're welcome,

The Ethicator

Got a moral question you just can't solve?  Send it to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com

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  1. I never noticed before how much Carl Elliott looks like Jack Nicholson (but only in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest)…


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