I'm talking about a particular kind of Liberal Arts College/University --- be it small or large. Let me describe it to you ---
- Markets itself to parents as a good place to learn, with small classes and lots of student/faculty interaction.
- Has high tuition ($30,000/ year and above).
- Has substantial research expectations of its faculty and a standard 3/3 or 4/4 load..
- Has aspirations to be a research university, thus it makes hiring and P/T decisions based on research and not on teaching ability.
Also -- understand that I'm not saying everyone at such a place IS unethical, only that the structure of such a place tends to reward unethical treatment of students. Of course, many folks do well by their students in such an institution but that is because they work hard to do so in a system that is not designed to facilitate good teaching.
The problem is that, in such institutions, the structure of the institution makes it difficult to be both a good teacher and a good researcher. Of course, they make noise about research influencing teaching -- blah, blah, blah -- BUT, unless a) the research is about teaching itself or b) the research is at an undergraduate's intellectual level, it seems unlikely that there is substantial overlap between scholarship and the classroom. It is a rare person who is a good researcher and can communicate complex concepts to undergrads in a meaningful way. Often those folks are discounted as "just good teachers".
The unethical part about this is that the students or their parents are paying a lot of money and they are not getting the education they are paying for. If they were, the professors would either have fewer classes or lower research requirements. As it is, the professor's time is divided between teaching and research -- and when grading is put in the teaching side of the equation, the time for preparation and thought about the classroom experience is significantly decreased. Add to that an institutional structure that expects and rewards research AND the fact that research is generally more interesting, it pretty clear why most people will slight the classroom for the research.
This is different from ACTUAL research universities (R1s)-- in three ways....
1) R1s aren't marketed to parents as being student-focused places for high quality education due to small class sizes and high faculty/student interaction. Instead R1s market themselves as being a place where excellent students can excel. There isn't an illusion of being student-focused. Perhaps you can claim that their marketing implies student interaction with research super-stars, but that is easier to see as bogus than the LAC's claims of significant faculty interaction.
2) The faculty at R1s teach fewer sections and often have TAs to do stuff like grading. Thus, they CAN put some additional thought into the classroom presentation because they don't have to do the grading part. That isn't to say that they DO, but -- if they spend 20% of their work time thinking about classes, then that time is not consumed with grading.
3) Many R1s are state schools, so costs are subsidized by tax dollars and -- as a result, it isn't the case that tuition dollars must be spent on research. The state R1 has two stated purposes, teaching and research -- and thus two benefits to the state. Private R1s are schools that come with a high degree of prestige for their graduates, so it can be argued that their tuition dollars are an investment that buys a name that will open doors and result in higher salaries.
This isn't to say that the CC system (or, at least BNCC) doesn't have unethical elements in it's structure -- my Intro, Ethics and World Religions class sizes are a perfect example -- but, our tuition is lower and the student/faculty interaction is higher. We aren't marketing ourselves as a perfect little educational cocoon in which your precious snowflake will be intellectually nurtured and developed -- rather, our marketing is something like "Our tuition $150/credit hour, their tuition $340/credit hour".