Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2020

have a friend who is not diagnosed with any mental disorders, but routinely takes Adderall to help him study. Is this unethical?

Ignoring the means of acquiring this drug, which I’m sure present many ethical issues of their own, the question to focus on is whether it is unethical to take a performance enhancing drug in relation to academics. The problem with using these drugs is that they create an unequal playing field. Your academic record should reflect the work you put in and your intelligence, not your ability to obtain Adderall or other expensive and regulated drugs.

However, there are many other unequal playing fields in academics. Students with more money hire private tutors, or consult expensive books that provide additional help in courses. People whose parents work in the field ask them for help, and nobody calls this out as bad behavior. The use of drugs is also not unprecedented — who hasn’t chugged a couple Red Bulls in the middle of an all-nighter? In a perfect world, the classroom would be a perfectly level playing field, but in reality that is an impossibility.

But just because it is impossible doesn’t mean that we have to settle for a grim reality where the students who have the most connections and cash to drop get the highest grades. Adderall infers an advantage via abilities that are not related to the field that it improves. Ethics should strive for equality, not settle for inequity.

My biology class takes attendance via “clickers.” Of course many people give their clicker to their friends to bring to class to get credit for being present in class. I feel like this is wrong, but how come?

The mystery of how 100 clicker answers show up when the lecture hall is half empty has finally been solved! Well, not really. Every professor who assigns some credit to attendance knows that some students are receiving credit while comfortably in bed. However, the professor’s knowledge that some people will be credited despite not being there does not excuse the deceit that receiving that credit entails.

When the syllabus is created with a portion for attendance, the professor is stating that attending class has some intrinsic value beyond merely preparing you for tests and homework, and they are assigning this value to a portion of the grade.

When you skip class and give your friend your clicker, you are receiving credit for this work without doing it. Just as if you turned in a homework assignment without actually doing it. So skip class all you want, but be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions.

In this column I will attempt to answer ethical questions that you, the readers, email me. You can direct your questions to ethics@jhunewsletter.com. I am in no way an expert on ethics, but I enjoy thinking and talking about it, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions in a reasonable and straightforward manner.

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