July 24, 2006
Mentoring Scenario 1
A student that enters graduate school with two years of support from their undergraduate institution spends two years working with a faculty member. After that time, the faculty member informs the student she will not be the studentís thesis advisor. This case presents the opportunity for ethical analysis using both the Categorical Imperative and the Principal of Utility.
It seems obvious that the professor has violated the Categorical Imperative, because anyone who has given essentially free research to a professor for two years would expect to be supported for their final two. The professor should have informed the student before they began working together that the professor would not be able to support the student. The student has a right to expect the professor to be honest about her ability and desire to support the student after the first two years. As the student was not informed of the professorís attitude, the professor has a responsibility to support the student for the rest of the studentís graduate career. The professor also has the right to have students that produce quality research and contribute to her group, so if the student was indeed entirely useless to her (the only circumstance in which it might be acceptable for her to decide not to be the studentís advisor) she should have informed the student immediately instead of allowing the student to continue work in her group.
When examining this situation from the standpoint of the Principal of Utility, one should note that by refusing to continue advising the student the professor has quite possibly extended the amount of time it will take the student to complete his studies. This will place great difficulty on the student, deprive the science community of another scientist, and cause a new professor to spend time giving the student training in a new specific area. Each of these could result in a slowing of the progress of science, which would definitely reduce overall utility. If the student is truly a burden upon the professor that hampers the professorís research progress, it would be ethical by the Principal of Utility for the professor to refuse to continue advising the student, although she would be obligated to give the student ample warning in order to avoid slowing the studentís progress toward his degree.
From the facts given in the scenario, it seems that the professor has acted in a manner that violates both the Categorical Imperative and the Principal of Utility. Depending on circumstances not described in the scenario, the professorís actions might have been ethical, but only if she informed the student of her decision well before the studentís two year scholarship expired.