Increased presence of law enforcement in colleges and universities, and in particular federal law enforcement, affects the campus and classroom environments in numerous and sometimes subtle ways. Recent research (Daniel Golden, John Krige, et al.) has revealed a level of penetration of American higher education institutions by agencies, including the FBI and CIA, not seen since the height of the Cold War. This situation poses a number of complex questions for professors and students. Among these, I argue, it poses ethical challenges for philosophy and ethics professors.
The goal of this presentation is to develop an understanding of our professional duties as philosophy and ethics educators in a rapidly changing work environment, using the following questions. Question 1: What duties do we have to our students to disclose when federal law enforcement may be present in a learning environment in which students are invited and encouraged to think critically about the norms and laws governing their professions? Question 2: What duties do we have to ourselves and our colleagues in maintaining and defending academic freedom under these conditions? (These are only two of the many ethical questions the current campus situation presents us with.)
In offering a way to answer these questions I first present a hypothetical case in which a federal law enforcement employee is enrolled in an upper-division undergraduate applied ethics course. I introduce a conception I call the “professional learning environment.” This is a classroom dynamic that philosophy instructors often strive to create in order to encourage the productive exchange and conflict of ideas among learners in the course of discussion, reflection, peer-review, online forum participation and other group activities. Then, I identify some of the problems the presence of federal law enforcement raises for the students and for the aims of the class as a whole. These speak to question 1. Then I identify the challenges posed for the instructor. These speak to both questions 1 and 2. The presentation aims to generally identify what duties philosophy and ethics professors may have in such cases, and to whom. I will also generally identify the interests of the students involved. Finally, I identify the implications of some different views on the problem.