In a study, philosophers Eric Schwitzgebel of UC Riverside and Joshua Rust of Stetson University found that ethics professors were no more likely than other philosophers or scholars in other disciplines to respond to student emails, even though a significant majority said that failure to do so is morally bad.
While faculty - particularly ethicists - who placed a high moral value on responding to student emails also typically rated themselves high on their responsiveness, Schwitzgebel and Rust found that assessment to be generally inaccurate.
"If professors have an obligation to respond to emails from students, then arguably they also have a further obligation to track whether or not they are meeting the first obligation, so that if they are not meeting the first obligation they can take corrective measures," the philosophers wrote.
"If this is correct, then the present study offers not just one measure of morality, email responsiveness, but two: email responsiveness and meeting one's moral obligation not to be deluded about one's level of email responsiveness. Professors remain far short of ideal by either measure, ethicists no less so than others," they added.
Approximately half of American ethicists believe that professional ethicists behave at least a little morally better than nonethicists, Schwitzgebel and Rust said. In 2009 the two began a series of experiments to determine if that is so.
One previous study found that philosophy books dealing with ethics were more likely to be missing from leading academic libraries than similar nonethics books in philosophy. Another found that ethicists and political science professors voted at the same rate as did nonethicist philosophers and professors in departments other than philosophy.
Two other studies found that ethicists behaved no more courteously than nonethicists and were as likely to avoid paying registration fees as nonethicists at conferences of the American Philosophical Association.
The study was published in the journal Metaphilosophy.