The faculty at Glendale Community College will vote soon on whether to adopt a much-debated code of professional ethics dealing with such issues as academic freedom, political activism and exploitation of students by teachers.
Proposals for such a code have been discussed on campus for more than four years but never voted on. Faculty leaders say the current proposal grew, in part, out of allegations in 1984 by students that a now-retired business professor defrauded them out of thousands of dollars through investment plans he reportedly ran out of his classroom.
Some professors fear that adoption of the code--and especially an amendment condemning sexual solicitation--will lead the public to wrongly conclude that unethical behavior by teachers is widespread at Glendale Community College. Such cases are rare, they say.
The code's supporters say it is important to have the "Statement on Professional Standards" on the books, not only to avoid scandal but to help guide the 160 full-time and more than 300 part-time teachers in making daily decisions.
"The vast majority of the faculty here are ethical people. But everybody has times when he asks himself if he is doing the correct thing. It is good to have something in writing to refer to," explained Jean Lecuyer, a physics professor who is president of the faculty's Academic Senate and one of the code's main proponents.
There appears to be little controversy about the main body of the code, which is virtually identical to one adopted in 1966 by the American Assn. of University Professors.
That five-paragraph statement, among other things, allows teachers to pursue outside interests as long as they maintain their intellectual honesty at the school; forbids any exploitation of students for teachers' private advantage; encourages a free and respectful exchange of ideas among faculty, and asks teachers to avoid creating the impression that they speak for the college when they are expressing a private opinion.
One of three amended "comments" to the basic code states that a student's race, sex, beliefs or personality should not influence grading.
Debate centers on the two other comments and a proposal to establish an ombudsman office to handle complaints about teachers.
The most controversial item declares: "Students are entitled to a student/teacher relationship which is free of sexual solicitation or exploitation."
Supporters of that statement point out that such a clear policy is recommended by the American Council on Education and is simply an affirmation of the legal victories of the women's movement.
But other professors say the general statement forbidding exploitation would cover any instances of sexual harassment and that approving a separate item about sex would only inflame public curiosity.
"It may give a wrong emphasis, suggesting that this is a problem when I don't believe it is," said Jeb Brighouse, a political science teacher who is editor of the faculty newsletter. "There isn't a circumstance or atmosphere of rampant exploitation. It's just not going on."
If any issue needs specific censure, it is financial entanglement between a teacher and student, Brighouse said, referring to the allegations which surrounded the early retirement in 1984 of business professor C. Cecil Abernathy.
Real Estate Promotion
In lawsuits against Abernathy and the college, four students alleged that Abernathy used classroom time to induce them to invest in his private real estate businesses, promising in some cases to double their money in two years. The students claimed that Abernathy bilked them out of a total of $12,500 and that college administrators ignored their warnings about Abernathy.
After a series of appeals to the state Supreme Court, Glendale Community College itself was eliminated as a defendant last year because, the courts said, the students should have known Abernathy's investments were not connected to his teaching. The cases against Abernathy are still pending but are stalled because he filed for protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws.
Another controversial comment discourages teachers from persistently discussing during class time issues that have nothing to do with the course subject.
"In other words, if the student comes to our class expecting a course in basic algebra, we do not have the right to, under the guise of academic freedom, spend half of our time talking about the merits or perils of 'Star Wars' or about our latest adventure at home," Lecuyer wrote in a memo distributed to teachers last week. The idea is not to prevent ordinary digressions or even occasional discussion of subjects outside the scope of the course, Lecuyer said.
However, some teachers worry that students could use that part of the code to harass them and that professors could wind up having to defend their use of personal anecdotes.