LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
After reading a recent opinion on teaching archaeology ethics to students, I was a bit puzzled by statements that we should teach archaeological ethics largely to postgraduate students. Messenger et al. [SAA Bulletin 1999, 17(2): 13], reporting for the Postgraduate Education/Professional Development work group from the Wakulla Springs, Florida, SAA Workshop on "Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century," suggest that the SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics could "provide a unifying set of themes for postgraduate education" (emphasis mine). Although I certainly don't find this in any way disagreeable, the report caused me to wonder where the undergraduates were going to get ethics training. What I found, after reading several of the Wakulla Springs workshop reports, leads me to believe that we might want to reconsider how we deal with undergraduates regarding ethics. The background papers available on Wakulla Springs workshop web site were instructive and very much worth reading.
One of them, "Training Students in Archaeological Ethics," (www.saa.org/Education/Curriculum/lynstep.html 1998) directly addresses interesting questions about how and at what level we should provide ethical training. Mark Lynott and Vin Steponaitis settle on an idea that it should be primarily at the graduate level. They note that most undergraduate archaeological training is done in a liberal arts context where the primary goal is to teach basic intellectual skills and where "imparting skills geared to a specific profession is of secondary concern." They suggest that while teaching archaeological ethics might be a suitable subject for coursework, it need not be a major focus. Undergraduates should hear about the problems with looting with enough background to understand why, but consideration of "other ethical issues that affect professional practice in archaeology can hardly be considered essential, particularly given that a bachelor's degree is generally not considered a professional credential in our field." They go on to suggest that professional training happens at the graduate level where ethics should be broadly considered as part of every graduate student's experience. Several reports from Wakulla Springs suggest that ethics could become a framework to organize graduate training.
The report written on undergraduate training (Davis et al. www.saa.org/Education/Curriculum/ugr.html 1998) generally concurs with the graduate training report, but does provide an assessment of where the working group thought various of the ethical principles could be incorporated in training undergraduates. Following the ethics training report, the stewardship principle is seen as reasonable for all students at all levels and the "professional ethics and values" elements were deemed appropriate for students only in advanced courses in method and theory and principles of archaeology courses. It at least allows for some teaching of ethics to undergraduates.
More than 25 years of teaching archaeology, most of that time at a primarily undergraduate liberal arts school, suggests to me that this approach really underestimates undergraduate capabilities and needs, and probably sells our profession short. On a hunch, and in what I think was an unbiased way, I read the segments above to the two dozen students in my Plains Archaeology class, a mixed group of two archaeology grad students, 17 undergraduate anthropology majors, and five undergraduates with non-anthropology majors. I simply asked their opinion about the statements. What I got from them were surprisingly sophisticated, but sometimes indignant, responses.
To a person, the students were adamant that this approach was not a good one. They agreed that although teaching the stewardship principle was probably the most important, the rest of the ethics code provided important context for that core principle. In their view, the other principles operationalized the stewardship principle. Assuming that stewardship of the past is not just a matter of saving the past for archaeologists, the principles of accountability, commercialization, public education and outreach, and public reporting and publication essentially address the question of for whom do we do archaeology. Intellectual property, records, and preservation, along with training and resources were considered the most specifically related to professional skills, helping students to understand the important aspects of archaeological practice. A few had taken general ethics courses as part of their liberal arts training. They noted the important political functions of ethics codes for a field in terms of sending a message to a profession's publics that the group is behaving ethically, something particularly important for archaeology in light of concerns about repatriation.
When I raised Lynott and Steponaitis' suggestion that ethics were mostly important for graduate training because bachelor's degrees were not considered to be a professional credential, several of them actually seemed to take offense. Two of the students pointed out that this is mostly a matter of regulations for running a CRM project, not working on it for pay. Two of them had already done such work, noting that the primary credential for working on CRM projects seemed to be having an archaeological field school. They were right; most crews I've had in the field were either undergraduate students or people with B.A.s. My projects couldn't afford the luxury of a crew of graduate students or M.A.s! Many organizations have a nearly permanent staff of B.A.-level "shovel-bums"highly skilled technicians who do most of the fieldwork and much of the lab analysis and write-up. Many of these people also are often directly engaged in public education projects. If they were my staff, I'd prefer them to be fully aware of archaeological ethics.
My class felt that the idea of organizing an archaeology curriculum around the ethics principles was a terrific one that should be used even for undergraduates. They were sophisticated enough to say that this didn't have to be overt, and might even be better if it weren't. They reasonably asked that if professional ethics is to guide all our professional behaviors, why shouldn't it be present in our teaching at all levels? I asked how many of them had had even a discussion of ethics in their introductory courses, and none could remember one. I asked if any could remember seeing a discussion of ethics in any of their intro texts; none could. But to a person, they agreed that discussion of the ethics codes for SAA and other archaeological organizations should appear in our textbooks, minimally in the form of a discussion of ethics, but perhaps fully presented as a sidebar (archaeology text authors take note!).
This one class discussion and a few conversations since have taught me that many undergraduates may be far more aware of and concerned about ethics than I might have imagined. I suspect that undergraduate sophistication has changed in regard to ethics. This may stem from 20 years of very public ethical gaffes from the business and political worlds, but it also may derive from the fact
that the undergraduate student profile has changed dramatically toward more career-directed, nontraditional students. I note with pleasure the involvement of the Student Affairs Committee [SAA Bulletin 1999, 17(2): 15] in the National Curricular Reform process, but wonder what level of input undergraduates might have to it or how their input is being sought. Whatever the case, I'd like to suggest that we give further consideration to the role of ethics in undergraduate training. I would urge that ethics be fully incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum and ways be sought to link archaeological ethics to ethical problem-solving in general. ·
Larry J. Zimmerman
Chair, American Indian and Native Studies, University of Iowa
Member, SAA Ethics Committee
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