Academic duty

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University wrote about the responsibilities of faculty in his book entitled Academic Duty (1997).  Kennedy wrote that “academic freedom” was well known but less so “academic duty” due to the “relatively uncodified” (p. vii) understanding of faculty work. He argued that faculty work included the following duties: to teach, to mentor, to serve the university, to discover, to publish, to tell the truth, to reach beyond the walls, and to change. Today, we would likely propose that the work of faculty has expanded to include additional roles including grant writing, fundraising, public relations, global perspective, civility, and building inclusive communities to name a few.

As I reflect on these duties, I think we could agree that many of the academic duties (e.g., to teach, to discover, to publish, to serve, to mentor) are well known and accepted among the responsibilities of faculty.  The degree to which these and other duties are evident in the lives of the faculty do vary some depending upon the type of university and type of faculty position but they are what we can expect when hired as a tenure track faculty member.  But they do represent the core of faculty work.

Two of the duties deserve additional comment – “to tell the truth” and “to change”. The academic duty of “to tell the truth” has become increasingly more important especially in the context of almost daily reports of research misconduct, plagiarism, and other examples of lapses in professional and scholarly ethics in higher education.  The availability of entities such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and official ethics guidelines and training programs through National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have brought greater attention to and scrutiny of scholars and their scholarly work and sometimes professional and even personal lives.  Online academic news sources especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, World University News regularly provide news and updates on cases of academic misconduct and of course, social media including twitter (e.g., ORI twitter) helps disseminate information.  Professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines exist in many academic disciplines and are often incorporated into the professional development of the future faculty.

“To change” is the second academic duty to be highlighted here.  It has been said that universities are slow to change and those of us who have been in higher education for some time would likely agree.  But I would argue that universities and therefore faculty have a responsibility to change, to grow and to challenge ourselves to continue to be meaningful and relevant today and for the future.  Universities are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to society, including a global society.  Higher education has been challenged by the technological advancements and the rapid rate of change. One need only to consider the development of the internet and the surprising speed of the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and the most recent development of the MOOC and its impact upon higher education. Institutions of higher learning have yet to realize the full extent of these developments. If we are open to it, MOOCs will help us understand more about learners and learning and they can challenge us to think differently about how we provide opportunities for acquiring and disseminate knowledge.  These are but two examples about how we must engage with change and prepare the faculty (and future faculty) to change and to be changed.


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