Academic Deviance Essay

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Since all organizations and occupations entail normative structures, they also present opportunities for legal and ethical violations. In the university setting, students may break rules (e.g., through cheating or plagiarism) as might administrators (e.g., through unlawful firing). But, the main focus in the study of academic deviance has been on the misbehavior of college and university faculty members. As central figures in the teaching/learning mission of higher education, faculty are both professionals within disciplines and employees of a college or university. Either role can involve openings for deviant behavior.

Two dimensions of activities are helpful in delineating the nature of academic deviance. First, one can distinguish between professional and occupational forms of deviance. A profession generally espouses a set of ethics, which can be violated, while an occupation offers possibilities for crime that people commit in their usual line of work. The second dimension has to do with the deviance being directed toward property or toward persons.

The forms of occupational deviance among academics do not differ greatly from those in other occupations. Much as white-collar workers or laborers pilfer property belonging to the organization which employs them, so also do some professors. When the occupational deviance operates on the interpersonal level, we might see among faculty members such behavior as the sexual harassment of colleagues or the exploitation of human subjects in research.

Professional deviance reflects the distinctive features of university and disciplinary organizations, especially their reward structures and constitutive roles. Where property offenses occur, they are more likely to involve the misappropriating of intellectual property. Two well-known and serious forms of this type of deviance are plagiarism and the fabrication or misrepresentation of research findings. These offenses are essentially acts of theft and fraud.

Where professional deviance is interpersonal, it entails evaluations of the work of others in the academic roles of scholar, teacher, and colleague. Such evaluations are evident in refereeing journal articles and grant proposals, grading student work, and evaluating faculty colleagues who are candidates for promotion or tenure. Deviance in these contexts involves breaches of an expected impartiality.


  • Heeren, J. W. & Shichor, D. (1993) Faculty malfeasance: understanding academic deviance. Sociological Inquiry 63: 49—63.

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