Friday, November 15, 2013

Skin in the Game: Ethics Questioned

A time did exist, not that long ago, when anyone who had a financial interest in any venture where either patients or students were involved had to reveal it and, in many cases, severe the relationship. I can think of one researcher at a major medical center who had received a nice bit of stock in a pharmaceutical company and was then going to do research on their product. The chief of the hospital heard about it and the researcher left rather than cut the stock ties which proved to be very, very financially beneficial to this physician.

Today, there are still relationships which exist and which must be questioned in terms of ethics and how finance is affecting decisions. One example, now that medical centers and researchers are being more compliant with IRB (institutional review board) regulations, is in the area of privately owned institutions of higher learning. No problem with wanting to get a degree, to my mind, but there is a major problem when the person inducing you to sign up for a class also owes their job and their stock portfolio to that same private school.

How would you view a “professor” who urged you to take a course with them if you knew that they wouldn’t be earning money if you didn’t sign up? How would you view them if you knew they had a financial interest in getting you and your friends, co-workers, extended family members, neighbors and who knows who else into a course of study with them or the school?

Don’t you think, also, that their wish to retain students would appear a bit shady if you knew that, again, lack of retention meant they suffered a blow to what they were being paid for that course? And retention doesn’t mean for the entire course, just for that initial period when you would have to be given a refund if you withdrew. After that, the school and the professor are home free in terms of the money to them. How would you feel? Would you feel you had been, in some way, taken? Would you think it had a tinge of dishonesty about it?

For-profit is just that; for profit and not necessarily for much else. The stockholders demand that they receive a decent return on their investment and that’s where it ends with them. Get the people to sign up, get them to get the student loans and get all of us paid. Sounds ruthless, I know, but this isn’t your grandmother’s century. This is the century of getting everything you can and forgetting the consequences. Na├»ve is really good for them when it comes to promising degrees that insure jobs with prestige and provide a living wage. The problem is that the promotional materials may not always dovetail with the actual occupational outlook for the degrees offered. Some of the degrees, in my eyes, are little more than a new title that sounds good but looking in the Directory of Occupational Titles (DOT) you can’t find it. Oh, is it that advanced that the DOT hasn’t caught up? Are you going to believe that one? What's the occupational outlook really like and how did you come to that decision?

If you’re thinking of taking courses or getting an advanced degree, or any degree, how much research have you done on your own? Who has been advising you regarding career choices for the 21st Century? Are you only reading the materials put out by schools that want enrollment or are you also looking at what is taking place in the field that interests you? This is not a search you want to leave to someone else. You want to be in this yourself because, in this game, you have a lot of skin.