Anti-Authoritarian Professional Ethics for Academics: Doing the Right Thing in the Era of Trump

C4E Flash Event



In the wake of the recent US election, Rachel Barney, a professor of classics and philosophy at the University of Toronto, turned her mind to the question of how a teacher and scholar could operate with a clear conscience under an authoritarian regime. The result was a professional ethics checklist that has attracted widespread attention, ranging from “I will not aid in the registering, rounding up or internment of students and colleagues on the basis of their religious beliefs” (at No. 1) to “I will be fair and unbiased in the classroom, in grading and in all my dealings with all my students, including those who disagree with me politically” (at No. 10).

On January 10, 2017, an interdisciplinary panel at the Centre for Ethics discussed Professor Barney’s checklist in the context of questions such as:

  • What ethical norms should guide the behaviour of teachers not only at universities but also elsewhere in the face of an authoritarian, but democratically elected, government? What might give rise to these norms?
  • What conception of the teacher’s role do they reflect? Does it relate to the idea of teaching as a profession? As a calling? As a societal, or social, function or role? Do similar ethical norms apply to other professions (law, medicine, “science”)?
  • Do the same, or different, ethical norms apply to teachers, on one hand, and scholars (researchers, scientists), on the other? Do these norms differ from those governing the behaviour of “ordinary” people, citizens, employers, parents? What role does the claim to scientific expertise, objectivity, or neutrality, play in the notion of “professional ethics” or “scientific ethics”?
  • What distinguishes these “ethical” norms from “political” (or religious) beliefs?
  • How might a broader historical and comparative perspective illuminate consideration of professional ethics in the Era of Trump?


  • Rachel Barney, Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy, Departments of Classics & Philosophy, University of Toronto
  • Lauren Bialystok, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Justice Education, University of Toronto
  • Simon Stern, Associate Professor of Law and English & Co-Director, Centre for Innovation Law & Policy, University of Toronto

Tue, Jan 10, 2017
04:15 PM - 06:00 PM
Room 200, Larkin Building
15 Devonshire Place