This story reads as if it were invented just to cause arguments on Ethics Alarms.
Adrienne Pine, a professor at American University, was faced with a choice: stay home and care for her baby, who had a fever, or take the child to class. She chose to take the infant to the first meeting of her “Sex, Gender and Culture” course, where the child spent her lecture alternately on her mother’s back or crawling around the room, or, at one point, being breast-fed by the professor. Pine’s Full Mommy breast-feeding act was commented upon by the school newspaper, and Prof. Pine responded to inquiries by a student reporter with a dismissive, “…the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during the lecture. End of story,” and a defensive and defiant blog entry. She sees nothing wrong with her conduct, and regards the controversy as proof that ” a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU.”
That’s playing the ol’ Mommy Card with gusto, Professor Pine.
She is dead wrong, as a matter of professional ethics. As a college professor,Pine has limited demands on her time, and the one thing that she is required to do is to devote full attention to her students in class. With an infant, an ill infant at that, in her care, she could not do that. She had a pure and unresolvable conflict of interest, and it was a breach of her duty to her child (at one point a student had to tell her that the baby had a paper clip in her mouth) and a breach of duty to her students (if they were watching the baby, and later that breast-feeding exhibition, they were not able to give full attention to her lecture). She had a choice to make: do one job or the other, because it is impossible to do them both at the same time.
Simply put, it is unprofessional for a professional to make those to whom the professional owes his or her professional obligations accept lesser services because of the professional’s personal problems. Would it be, for example, ethical for…
- ...a lawyer to breast-feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was arguing a capital case before the Supreme Court?
- …a surgeon to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was supervising brain surgery?
- …a labor negotiator to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was to try to hammer out the resolution of a teachers’ contract with the striking union?
- …a diplomat to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around as she was trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Syria?
- …an actress to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around on stage while she is playing Lady MacBeth?
Well, who knows? Based on her aggressive stance maybe Pine would answer yes, which is why she can’t be trusted in any of these professions, just like she can’t be trusted to hold the one she is in. Her blogged explanation is full of rationalizations. Cancelling the first day of class, she says, might ” negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk.” Presumably she believes that the negative evaluations for giving a distracted first lecture with split attention and a disruptive child can effectively be beaten back by strategic and strident counter-charges of sexism. Her tenure track is not a justifiable reason to short-change her students. Similarly, she rationalizes, “…as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it.” No, your choice is to either meet both obligations properly, or not to commit to both obligations. A professional’s duty is to those the professional serves. If, as Pine describes it, a professional is “slogging” through professional duties, she’s a poor professional, and should be called on it.
Predictably, Pine loads out all the political correctness ammunition. “AU is also a campus that prides itself on its gender and sexuality exclusivity, a place where students commonly refer to themselves using words like cisgender, and where the male-bodied student body president came out last year as a woman. It wasn’t until some of my undergraduate students saw me feed my baby through my breast that my workplace became a hostile environment,” she writes.
No, professor, it wasn’t until you abused your students by making them solve your personal problem without their consent and by failing your obligations as a teacher to give full attention to them that you received legitimate criticism, which you are now trying to marginalize by political warfare.
The fact is that Prof. Pine was disrespectful to her students, unfair to those to whom she owed her best efforts, and neglected her obligations as a professional. Until she accepts responsibility for this and stops trying to shift the blame to others, she’s not trustworthy, and cannot be called an ethical teacher.
Pointer: Rick Jones
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