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Instructor Guidelines (Hughes Profession)

Structure of the assignment

This exercise involves students in asking how professional status interacts with power in an organization. Students first read the case background and the problems in which both Margaret Goodearl and Frank Saia find themselves. The instructor introduces the exercise and the criteria. Students then break up into small groups to review the criteria for whether a job is a profession and ask whether Goodearl or Saia are professionals. The answers to these questions can be reported back to class before continuing with the additional questions. They then ask whether Goodearl might have fared better if she had had access to a professional organization of "environmental electronics testers." How would this change her job?


Integrating the exercise into a class

This exercise is useful for asking whether computer science or software engineering is a profession, and would fit into that topic in a class. It seems primarily useful as a "start-up" exercise to place the benefits, costs, and limitations of professionalism in the context of employment in a large organization. After doing this exercise, students might be more motivated to read some of the suggested links below on software engineering and professionalism. A follow-up exercise and assignment would have students write position papers or engage in a debate about whether software engineers should be licensed.

This exercise relates centrally to ethical issues in the use of power. It would be useful for at least the instructor to review the ethical analysis on the use of power document. The criteria match up with different kinds of power that professional have, both over others and over each other. It would be an interesting exercise to classify the kinds of power (or freedom from influence) to which the different criteria refer. For instance, "requires specialized knowledge" is about expert and informational power, but since it mentions an advanced degree, it is also about referent power.

Time required

If the reading and analysis are done outside of class, this exercise can take 15 minutes as a whole-class discussion of the criteria. The exercise is unlikely to take more than 40 minutes when done with small group discussion in class.

Links for the Instructor

Greenwood, E. "Attributes of a Profession", in Moral Responsibility and the Professions, Eds. Bernard Baumrin and Benjamin Freedman, Haven Publications, New York, 1983.

Possible difficulties

Student will be tempted to think that professional means "acted professionally" as a term of general and vague praise. This really means "acted like a responsible adult" and is not connected to professional status in any but the vaguest way. Use the list of characteristics to head this misinterpretation off. Concentrate on whether the type of work Goodearl or Saia did, their occupation, was of "professional status."

Students may feel stymied in their search for answers to the specific questions. There are two ways to help with this. First, give some examples of the sort of detail you mean. You can tell from the case that Goodearl had a high-school-equivalent certificate while Saia had a college degree (in what?). What does this tell you about specialized knowledge? Was there any specialized knowledge that Goodearl needed? Look in the case for evidence. Secondly, student may be helped by comparing the two positions rather than concentrating on just one at a time. Did Saia have more of a particular criteria than did Goodearl. This helps student begin to think about relevant degrees of a criterion rather than yes or no.

Often students think of professionalism primarily in terms autonomy in decision. Looked at from the perspective of power, this mean the lack of others who have coercive (punishment) power. This is certainly a classic criterion (e.g the independent practicing doctor or lawyer) but it is only one among many criteria in the list below. This exercise can help student realize that professionalism is possible even in hierarchical organizations, and that professionalism does not solve all the difficult problems of an occupation.