David Bruce (born 1954): Are Students Morally Obligated to Show Up for Conferences?

Ethics will be a concern in your life. At times, you may have to decide if a certain action you are thinking of doing or a certain communication you are thinking of writing is moral. Therefore, it is a good idea to know some ethical rules and how to apply them to real life.

Mama Bruce’s Ethical Rules

The rules of ethics are T-shirt simple, and chances are, your mother is an expert in ethics. I know that my mother was. Here are Mama Bruce’s T-shirt simple ethical rules:

  • If you are allowed to do it, everyone (in a similar position to yours) should be allowed to do it.
  • Treat other people the way that you want to be treated.
  • Do actions that have good consequences

Mama Bruce’s Ethical Questions

Along with the ethical rules go ethical questions. These are questions that a person can ask when determining whether an action that person is thinking of doing is moral:

  • What would happen if everyone were to do what you are thinking of doing?
  • Would you want done to you what you are thinking of doing to other people?
  • What are the consequences of the action you are thinking about doing?

Let’s say that a student in a writing class sets up a conference to have a professor review a paper, then the student decides not to attend the conference and not to cancel the conference in advance. Of course, the student does not want to be punished for missing the conference and not cancelling it in advance.

  • What would happen if everyone were to do what you are thinking of doing?

The purpose of a conference is get help from a professor. If everyone were to set up conferences with the professor, then not show up for the conference and not cancel the conference in advance, soon the professor will either set up a penalty for missed conferences or simply not allow any student to set up conferences. There is a contradiction either way here. The student makes the rule “I will miss a conference and not cancel it in advance, and I don’t want to be punished for it,” but if everyone does what the student is thinking of doing, then either the student will be punished for missing the conference or it will be impossible for the student to set up a conference in the first place.

  • Would you want done to you what you are thinking of doing to other people?

Every professor has had the experience of a student setting up a conference, then not attending and not cancelling it in advance. To determine if the student’s action is moral, the student can think of a job interview. Suppose the student were to set up a job interview, drive to the site of the interview, get dressed up, and show up for the interview, only to be told, “Sorry, the person who was going to interview you flew to a meeting on the coast a couple of days ago and won’t be back until next week. Get out.” Would the student consider the interviewer’s action moral?

  • What are the consequences of the action you are thinking about doing?

One consequence is a very angry professor — a very angry professor who will grade the student’s work and a very angry professor who is unlikely to write a letter of recommendation for or be a mentor to the student.

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