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Ethics For Sale? Inquiry into the Swansea Centre for Philosophy & Health Care



Inquiry into the Swansea Centre for Philosophy & Health Care
The impact of market forces on academic standards in the brave
new world of enterprise culture has been a central issue in the
educational debates of the last decade. Market guarantees or the
sale of degrees? Proponents and critics of recent changes have
painted their scenarios in starkly contrasting hues. Rarely, however, in Higher Education at least, has the conflict been so sharply
focused on specific claims of malpractice as in the current
struggle over the Centre for Philosophy and Health Care in the
Philosophy Department at University College, Swansea.

Problems began last autumn (1989) when rumours began to
circulate that one of the academic staff from the Centre was
providing paid advice to a doctor charged by the General Medical
Council with trafficing in human organs, sometimes obtaining
them by deception. Alanned by the rumour and fearing that, if
true, it would bring the Centre into disrepute, some staff attempted
to clarify the situation by asking the Head of the Philosophy
Department to confinn or disconfinn the rumours. At this point,
things appear to have deteriorated pretty swiftly. Soon the air was
thick with accusations of unprofessional conduct on both sides
and threats of legal action by the Head of Department against

But this was just the beginning of a far wider dispute. Controversy over the ethics of consultancy quickly led on to questions
about the constitutional status of the Centre, its relation to the
Philosophy Department, and the powers and responsibilities of its
Director. Protesting staff had been told they were in violation of
the Guidelines on Grievance Procedure and, at one time, denied
a departmental discussion of the matter on the grounds that
according to the Centre’s constitution the Department had no
voting rights in Centre business. It was to turn out that whilst the
fonner was untrue, the Centre’s alleged constitution did not even
exist. In the meantime, the dispute over the consultancy rumbled
on, with allegations that, despite denials, the Centre had been paid
for it, but someone had subsequently asked the solicitors responsible to change the cheque.

By this time (January 1990), certain staff had become so
concerned about the way the Centre was being run that they began
to look into some of its other practices, prompted by a fonner
member of staff who continued to express worries about plagarism
in a dissertation he had been supervising but which had been
examined after he left the Centre. On examining the relevant
dissertation, two members of staff arrived at the (carefully
documented) conclusion that 40% of the work was demonstrably
plagarised. (‘ About as clear-cut a case of cheating as I have ever
seen’ was the conclusion of Professor James Rachael whose book

The End of Life was the source of some of the material, when
presented with the evidence.)
This raised the issue of how, given the concern about the
matter previously expressed by the supervisor prior to his leaving
the Centre, the dissertation had come to be passed. All of the
Centre’s administrative procedures were now open to scrutiny,
from admissions through to examining, with particular reference
to the secret practices of its Examining Boards. Even staff who
taught on the MA programme were unable to unearth details of
how decisions were actually taken – although the criteria according
to which they are supposed to be made are clear enough. Doubt
was even raised as to whether a particular External Examining
Board for the MA had actually met at all. (The Director of the
Centre acts as the sole Internal Examiner for a course which
awarded 38 MA degrees to part-time students in December 1989
In March, five members of the Philosophy Department fonnally
requested an inquiry into the conduct of the Examining Board for
the MA in Philosophy and Health Care. One of them, also a
member of the Centre, has since resigned on the grounds of his
lack of confidence in both the Director of the Centre and the Head
of the Philosophy Department.

In June, after repeated appeals from academics both inside and
outside the University of Wales, the university agreed to set up a
Committee of Inquiry to investigate the running of the MA in
Philosophy and Health Care. It is hoped by the Centre’s internal
critics that the inquiry will be independent, in the sense of being
made up from senior academics from outside the University of
Wales. At the time of writing (July), its composition has yet to be

Whether anything will come of all this remains to be seen. The
critics do, of course, have critics of their own, albeit of a more
generalising and dismissive kind. (The External Examiner to the
Philosophy Department, for example, in fonnulating the interesting
epistemological principle that ‘Nothing can be shown from a
position lacking in integrity’ has thus far failed to respond to the
detailed evidence available.) In a an academic enviroment in
which ‘centres of excellence’ spring up inside departments with
the ease of the installation of a nameplate, a new piece of carpet
and a fresh coat of paint, events at Swansea signal dangers ahead.

Meanwhile, it is rumoured, the real scandal (over finance) has yet
to break. Sound like a job for a business ethicist. Now there’s a
burgeoning new industry …

Peter Osborne
Radical Philosophy 56, Autumn 1990

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