University policy beyond higher purposes and loopholes

The University of California Standards of Ethical Conduct (Regents Policy 1111) states that individuals must set aside their own ethical judgment and comply with institutional policy, conform to institutional roles:

Each situation needs to be examined in accordance with the Standards of Ethical Conduct. No unlawful practice or a practice at odds with these standards can be justified on the basis of customary practice, expediency, or achieving a “higher” purpose.

Each member is expected to seek clarification on a policy or other University directive he or she finds to be unclear, outdated, or at odds with University objectives. It is not acceptable to ignore or disobey policies if one is not in agreement with them, or to avoid compliance by deliberately seeking loopholes.

The university’s statement of ethics announces that it is beyond the control of the individual. No individual may conceive of a motive beyond compliance with the organizational demand. “Higher” purposes are unethical purposes. Even seeking to avoid compliance by “seeking loopholes” is unethical. Individuals must “seek clarification” from university officials on any organizational demand that is otherwise stupid. Individuals authorized to speak for the otherwise mute and fictional person of the university decide what words will control individual practices. Individuals cannot be trusted to use their own judgment.

A university policy of commercialization through monopoly exploitation of patents is placed beyond the control of the individual inventor and even beyond the control of the individual university patent licensing officer. It is declared as a matter of institutional policy that to seek “loopholes” around “commercialization” is unethical.

For inventions taken broadly we must then add to university claims of ownership interest and financial interest a claim that the university protects its personnel from their own necessarily unethical behavior–behavior that’s unethical because it does not comply.

To ask what patent policy should control federal research contracting or should control university claims on inventions already presumes that the purpose to be achieved is the control of individuals by organizations. The policy that comes to mind, then, is reflexive policy: policy that restricts the organizational imposition of policy. You know, taking seriously Vannevar Bush’s idea from Science the Endless Frontier of the “free play of free intellects.”

Reflexive policy is the one form of policy that organizational thinking cannot tolerate. In institutional speak, ethics means compliance with institutional policy not commitment to a common standard of virtue or integrity or character. Emotivism holds there is no such standard and diversity argues that such a standard is not even desirable. Yet institutions insist on imposing their own arbitrary standards in the form of policy statements.

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