Faculty publishing threatened by new Uniform Ethics Code

Faculty members at the College and campuses across New Jersey are trying to convince state officials to reconsider enforcement of the Uniform Ethics Code, which can prevent professors from using their academic titles in published works and accepting any monetary prize.

The code prohibits employees of state agencies from using their state credentials in connection with any published works and from accepting honoraria or other “things of value” from any outside organization in the course of their professional practice.

Under the code, if a faculty member at a state college were to win the Nobel Prize, he or she would be required to refuse the $1.4 million honorarium that comes with it.

The code, intended to prevent conflict of interest, could end up preventing faculty members at public colleges and universities in New Jersey from performing activities that are routinely used as criteria for reappointment, tenure and promotion.

According to the 1997 Promotion Document for Faculty, on the Office of Academic Affairs Web site, faculty members at the College are expected to publish articles in “juried, professional or highly selective publications” if they seek promotion.

However, under “The Rules Regarding Published Works” in the Uniform Ethics Code, faculty members at public colleges and universities in New Jersey would not be allowed to be identified by their academic titles in their published works.

A draft of the code was made public in April, and a revised version was released in September. The code has yet to be enforced at the College.

During a special meeting of the State Ethics Commission on Oct. 18, the Council of New Jersey State College Locals – which consists of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union to which faculty at the College belong, and the AFL-CIO – submitted a statement asserting the Uniform Ethics Code is impractical in an academic environment.

“If fully enforced, the current Uniform Code of Ethics will have a stifling effect on scholarly activity in our public colleges and universities. Outstanding scholars and faculty will consider looking elsewhere for employment, which would create more of a brain drain in New Jersey,” the statement reads.

“Faculty members are concerned that since publishers require an author’s institutional affiliation be printed (to assure authority), they are in a Catch-22 regarding publishing their work as required for promotion and tenure,” reads the statement from the AFT/AFL-CIO.

Ralph Edelbach, president of AFT Local 2364 and associate professor of technology studies, is concerned the code is too rigid.

“We have always felt that we have to do things better than any other institute because we are under the microscope (of) Trenton,” he said. “Unfortunately, (the Uniform Ethics Code) is unreasonable for a lot of people here.”

“Our concern is that the State Ethics Standards, as currently articulated, unintentionally impede the accomplishment of the core commitment shared by the state and its higher education institutions to serve the needs of society,” Elizabeth Paul, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said in her opening statement at the State Ethics Commission meeting.

“My sense is that they are realizing that some modifications will have to be made,” Paul said. “The difficulty is in trying to convey that we want to be ethical . but that changes need to be made.”

“Using one set of guidelines to cover all state positions over such a broad spectrum of industries, and with vastly different job responsibilities and requirements, is problematic,” Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said via e-mail.

On Oct. 27, Judith Johnston, president of the New Jersey State Conference of the American Association of University Professors, the professional organization that represents faculty members at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, spoke before the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education.

“Government policing of professors’ academic research and publication is unnecessary,” Johnston said.