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VII. Ethics in Research Administration
PRACTICAL ETHICS IN AGRONOMIC RESEARCH
promises of future support or other conditions that cannot be kept. It is unethical
to misrepresent or otherwise deliberately and dishonestly undermine the efforts of
competitors. Because funding is uncertain and the future of research operations is
relatively unpredictable, not all tentative promises can be kept. As long as the risks
are outlined as clearly as possible to prospective employees during the hiring
process, unintentional breaking of tentative promises is not unethical.
It is sometimes necessary to terminate employment of an employee because of
wrongdoing or perceived deficiencies in hisher performance. This is a case of
weighing the bad effects of termination on the employee with the bad effects on
the organization and other employees if the employee is not terminated. Different
weights are placed on these factors in different organizations.
The process of termination should be as humane as possible. A stigma is attached to termination for cause, but its bad effects should be minimized. Open,
honest, objective, and compassionate discussion of the situation with the person
being terminated is of paramount importance.
I maintain that when we deny tenure to a faculty member, we are remiss in having let the situation go too far. Most tenure denials can be predicted at least a year
or two in advance. At that point, the person should be strongly encouraged to seek
alternative employment, thus avoiding or minimizing any stigma that might be attached to denial of tenure.
When a termination process is handled properly, it is possible for all parties to
benefit. It is usually not beneficial for a person to hold a position for which he/she
is not fully qualified or suited, intellectually or emotionally. It is far better to find
a more satisfying, less stressful work environment.
My experience is that people who are hired or retained as borderline cases generally remain at the borderline, which is not a good place to be in a hard-driving,
competitive, organizational culture. It is not ethical, in my view, for employers
knowingly to place people in that position or keep people who clearly cannot or
do not meet specified standards of work quality and productivity.
It is unethical for a prospective employee or an employee being terminated to
misrepresent hisher qualifications andor past performance. Likewise, when there
are appeals, administrators and employees involved are ethically constrained to
present their cases as honestly and objectively as possible. Harassment by either
side is clearly unethical.
It is useful and practical for organizations that hire people into what are expected
to be permanent positions to nurture their careers. This often involves assigning
mentors from among successful, experienced employees. If career nurturing is
successful, it will help employees and save the organization money and frustra-
tion. Nurturing may involve counseling an employee to seek other, more suitable
employment inside or outside the organization.
Nurturing in the agronomic research situation is an ongoing process in which
employees become well informed about what they have to do to meet expectations
of peers, administrators, and other decision makers, be appreciated for their contributions, advance in the organization, and be appropriately compensated. Appropriate nurturing empowers employees and makes them more independent and
interdependent. Nurturing helps avoid unnecessary terminations and the morale
and productivity problems associated with them.
People assigned as mentors take on an important responsibility. It is obviously
unethical for a mentor to deliberately mislead an employee or administrators to
whom they report concerning the employee’s performance. It behooves the mentor to study the mentoring process, be well informed about the employee’s work
situation and other situations and conditions impinging on the employee’s work,
and to communicate as objectively and honestly to the employee as possible.
Agronomic researchers and administrators often find themselves in positions in
which they must evaluate the performance of others or be evaluated themselves.
Important decisions, including hiring and termination, promotion and tenure, and
salary increments, hinge on evaluations.
1. Activity Reports
People being evaluated often are asked to submit reports of their activities. They
should be informed as to what criteria will be used to evaluate the reports. It is unethical to misrepresent performance on such reports or to wrongfully take credit
for the accomplishments of others. These reports should be thorough, honest, and
timely. Otherwise, those who submit them should not complain about the outcome.
People evaluating others or gathering such evaluations should consider whether
any conflicts of interest exist and make sure these do not affect evaluations and related decisions. Using one’s position as an evaluator to advance one’s own cause
to the detriment of others, punish others for perceived wrongs or differences of
opinion, or disable competitors are clearly cases of unethical behavior.
2. Letters of Recommendation, Support, and Evaluation
Agronomic researchers and administrators are often asked to write letters of recommendation, support, and/or evaluation. Requests come from applicants and
PRACTICAL ETHICS IN AGRONOMIC RESEARCH
candidates for positions, promotion and tenure, and awards and from the people
who are offering the positions, awards, etc. Candidates hope the letters will portray their cases in the best light, emphasizing their strong points. Prospective employers, award committees, and other evaluators hope the letters will be thorough,
thoughtful, honest, and objective. They especially hope the letters will reveal any
serious flaws in a prospect’s character or record that might not otherwise be evident.
It is unethical to deliberately misrepresent or slant information in a letter of recommendation, either to favor or disfavor the candidate or to influence a competition in favor of or against some other candidate. Authors of such letters should be
as honest and objective as possible, regardless of their relationship with the person being evaluated. They should portray their knowledge of that person accurately, especially not claiming to know more than they know. They should avoid
rumor and innuendo and make sure the information they present is well documented. They should alert readers to possible conflicts of interest.
There are situations in which supervisors actually misrepresent problem employees to other prospective employers in order to get rid of the problem employees. Besides being foolish because of its potential to backfire, this is unethical. In
this situation, it is important for decision makers to take responsibility for their
own mistakes and not to try to foist them on others.
3. Promotion Documents and Decisions
In public research institutions, the process of determining if researchers should
be promoted is often elaborate, especially when the granting of tenure is involved.
The future of individuals, families, careers, institutions, and resources is at stake
in these processes. Those who prepare promotion documents bear a heavy ethical
responsibility both to candidates for promotion and to the institution or organization. They are obligated to present a thorough, well-documented case, which may
or may not be supportive of promotion.
Authors of promotion documents need to proofread carefully, adhere to format
specifications, and provide clear, well-written narrative, where such is required.
Otherwise, readers may be distracted from the substance of the document. Decision makers who review promotion documents are also ethically obligated to read
and evaluate the documents thoroughly and objectively.
Candidates are often asked to provide information for and even write portions
of promotion documents, but they ordinarily do not bear final responsibility for either the information or the tone of documents. Nevertheless, they are morally obligated to provide accurate information and not to misrepresent their cases in any
way. Integrity on the part of both candidates and decision makers is very important in these situations.
4. Job Applications
Candidates fill out applications, submit resumes, and are interviewed in their
quest for positions. It is unethical for them to misrepresent their education and experience. They might be expected to present their case in the best light. If there
have been major problems that are relevant to their future performance, however,
they are morally obligated to reveal these problems. It is also wise for candidates
to reveal major problems, lest prospective employers find out about them and believe they have been misled.
When there are many qualified applicants for a position, prospective employers
tend to scrutinize applications more closely, looking for anything that might help
them decide among candidates. Unfortunately, but as one might expect, this scrutiny tends to focus on negative attributes. It is certainly appropriate for an applicant
to describe any mitigating circumstances or contrary opinions regarding alleged
5. Evaluating Administrators/Managers
Many organizations, especially universities, have processes for evaluating administrators periodically. Criteria for evaluation should be carefully developed and
reviewed before any evaluation takes place. It is appropriate for the person being
evaluated to review and comment on the criteria.
Typically, a survey form or procedure is developed. It is sent to or employed
with various groups. The groups are typically those that are exposed to and hopefully knowledgeable about the performance of the person in question. If administrators/managers have responsibilities outside the organization, it is important to
obtain information from the outside groups with which the person works so as to
achieve a balanced perspective on the person’s performance.
The survey should be constructed and administered so as to gather information
that is relevant, complete, accurate, and unbiased. Those being surveyed are obligated to answer survey questions as truthfully, thoughtfully, accurately, and objectively as possible. It is also incumbent on those being surveyed to disqualify
themselves if there are insurmountable conflicts of interest or biases or if they are
not well acquainted with the person’s position, responsibilities, and performance.
The person being evaluated should be allowed to comment on any proposed survey instrument or procedure. Changes or different approaches recommended by
that person should be considered before the final instrument or procedure is implemented. It is clearly unethical for any individual or group to use periodic review as a mechanism for launching a personal vendetta against an administratodmanager. Likewise, it is unethical for a person being evaluated to provide false
information or to otherwise misrepresent hiskier performance.
PRACTICAL, ETHICS IN AGRONOMIC RESEARCH
6. Equity and Merit
Administrator/managers are often faced with balancing considerations of equity and merit. When determining salary increments, for example, administrators
may decide to spread some of the resources evenly over a certain group of employees in order to treat them equitably. They may decide to reward merit without
regard to equity. In the latter case, the organization may have decided that equity
is adequately served if everyone has an equal opportunity to compete for the resources at hand.
This situation reveals, perhaps more clearly than others, how people may differ
in their concept of fairness. To many, fairness means to divide things equally
among participants. To others, it means to divide things among people in proportion to the contributions made by individuals. The usual challenge is to arrive at
some reasonable balance between achieving equity and rewarding merit.
Equity/merit decisions involve many factors, including the type, culture, and
history of the institution or organization; current and projected future financial
state of the institution or organization; amounts of resources available for salaries,
salary increments, bonuses, etc.; leadership style within the organization; messages administrators wish to send; and incentives they wish to provide.
The ethical course of action for administrators in this situation is to make sure
people being evaluated know what criteria will be used to judge merit. The criteria should be applied uniformly, fairly, and consistently. The interests of an organization’s clients, customers, and constituents should be taken into account.
Administrator/managers often need to portray their organizations to groups of
constituents. There is a natural tendency for valued employees to portray organizations in the best light. Sometimes an administrator wants constituent groups to
respect and admire their organizations so the constituents will provide more support.
Sometimes an administrator is a “true believer,” that is, really convinced that
the organization is exceptionally good. This may be true or it may be that the administrator is too emotionally involved with the organization to make objective
judgments about it. It is unethical to provide false or misleading information about
In the long run, it is probably best to think of constituent groups as partners in
this situation and to communicate with them as if they were partners. If there are
problems within the organization or with the organizations’ relationships, it is best
to share those problems with clients or constituents and, whenever possible, enlist
their aid in solving them. Relationships between organizations and their constituents should be characterized by ethical behavior, including honesty, fairness,
I acknowledge Gary Shaw and Mary Scott (Scottie) Miller, former assistant directors of the Illinois
Agricultural Experiment Station and Carol Neilson, secretary, for diligence in searching out and retrieving journal articles and other references on ethics for my use in this effort. Also acknowledged are
the valiant and no doubt frustrating efforts of Greg McIsaac, Assistant Professor in the University of
Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, to educate me on relevant environmental and social themes. Greg also provided several valuable references.
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B. A. Stewart and C. A. Robinson
Dryland Agriculture Institute
West Texas A&M University
Canyon, Texas 79016
111. Semiarid Regions
A. Aridity Index
B. Length of Growing Period
C. Example Locations
IV The Issue of Sustainability
A. Agroecosystem Processes
B. Climatic Effect
C. Soil Effect
D. Socioeconomic Effect
V. Technologies for Increasing Plant-Available Water
A. Lengthening the Fallow Period
D. Crop Calendars
VI. Soil Organic Matter Maintenance
Worldwide population and income growth are generating increasing demands
for food and other agricultural products and will continue to do so into the next
century. Most of the increased demand is in the developing countries, where it has
been estimated that over the next 40 years, the demand for staple foods will grow
at approximately 2.5% per year (World Bank, 1992). At the same time, there is a
growing concern worldwide about the sustainability of agroecosystems.
In 1800, the world’s population was approximately 1 billion people. It was 2.5
Advances in ARronyy. Volume 60
Copyright 0 1997 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
B. A. STEWART AND C. A. ROBINSON
billion in 1950,4.7 billion in 1983 (a 1.9% average annual increase), and is projected to reach 6.1 billion in 2000 (a 1.6% annual increase) (World Bank, 1986).
Agricultural production, however, increased even faster, doubling between 1950
and 1980. This increased production resulted in about a 5% increase in per capita
daily calorie consumption. People in developed countries consume approximately 3315 calories per capita compared to only 2180 in developing countries. Approximately 2300 is generally considered the minimum requirement (FAO, 198 1).
From the beginning of agriculture until approximately 1950, increased food
production resulted almost entirely from an expanded cropland base. Since 1950,
however, the yield per unit of land area for major crops has increased dramatically. Much of the increase in yields is due to increased inputs of energy. Between
1950 and 1985, the farm tractor fleet quadrupled, world irrigated area tripled, and
fertilizer use increased ninefold. Between 1950 and 1985, total energy used in
world agriculture increased 6.9 times (a 5.7% average annual increase) (Brown
and Postel, 1987). Some of the agroecosystems that propelled food and fiber production during this period are not being sustained. In addition, there are limited areas, particularly under favored environments, where further development can occur. Consequently, agroecosystems will become increasingly present on marginal
lands in semiarid regions. Semiarid regions are characterized by insufficient precipitation, low soil fertility, and a rapid loss of arable land to soil degradation. An
imbalance between natural resources, population, and basic human needs exists in
these regions. The warm seasonally dry tropics occurring primarily in subSaharan Africa, Southwest and Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and
Northern Australia contain more than 1.5 billion people (Technical Advisory
Committee, 1990). Several of the countries in these regions have population
growth rates among the highest in the world. Kanemasu et al. (1990) estimated
that the semiarid tropics contained 13% of the world’s land and were inhabited by
15% of the world’s people but produced only 11% of the world’s food.
There are growing concerns about the ability of the agricultural community to
continue production of food and fiber at a rate sufficient to meet the demands of a
growing population; this is particularly so if income growth results in dietary
changes that require more grains for meat, eggs, and milk.
Brown (1995) summarized the strategy developed at the 1994 Conference on
Population and Development in Cairo. He concluded that their strategy reflects a
sense of urgency-a feeling that unless population growth can be slowed quickly,
it will push human demands beyond the carrying capacity of the land in many
countries, leading to environmental degradation, economic decline, and social disintegration. Some important trends that Brown emphasized include a significant
decline in the rate of irrigation development, a leveling off of worldwide fertilizer usage, and a slowing of cropland productivity.The world’s irrigated land in 1950
totaled 94 million hectares but increased to 140 million by 1960 (a 4.5% average
annual increase), to 198 million hectares by 1970 (a 3.5% average annual in-