I swear I am just doing my job

Academic proposes 'Hippocratic oaths' for scholars and managers. Rebecca Attwood reports

August 5, 2010

An expert on university management has proposed two "Hippocratic oaths" for higher education - one for university scholars and one for managers.

In a paper in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Geoff Sharrock, programme director of the master of tertiary education management at the University of Melbourne, says that management does not always "mesh well" with scholarly professionalism, and there can be "intractable conflicts" between those who identify with one or the other domain.

Dr Sharrock sets down two oaths that, he says, suggest each role holds common values, and that could help negotiations when conflict arises between the two sides. The codes would help to make it clear that "many such differences arise from legitimately different values and purposes", he says.

Recognising the agendas and priorities of both roles "offers scope for good-faith negotiation of conflicts between university scholars and managers".

The oath for scholars calls on them to "support open, independent and systematic inquiry, high standards of learning and the creative and responsible uses of knowledge".

The "10 commandments" are: "dare to know"; teach well; be public-spirited; be responsible; be transparent; be collegial; be respectful ("show courtesy to those who, in good faith, misunderstand or disagree"); be open-minded; be impartial; and be scrupulous.

Meanwhile, managers should promise to "build my enterprise's capacity to support academic projects by strengthening its resources, relationships and reputation".

Like scholars, their commandments include being: responsible ("make sure decisions are made with due consideration of their costs, risks and benefits to all those affected"); transparent; public-spirited; open-minded; and scrupulous.

The other commandments for managers are: "dare to strategise"; manage well; build trust; be compliant; and be entrepreneurial.

Sir David Watson, professor of higher education management at the Institute of Education, who proposed a single list of "10 commandments" for academic institutions in 2007, said Dr Sharrock had made an "interesting contribution".

"In my own '10 commandments', I was more after what unifies members of an academic community than divides them, and I note that there's a fair amount of overlap between his two lists," Sir David said.

Matthew Andrews, academic registrar at Oxford Brookes University, said he would have liked to see "greater emphasis on mutual recognition of the value of both roles" in the oaths.


Under oath: dare to know and dare to strategise


To the best of my ability I will support open, independent and systematic inquiry, high standards of learning, and the creative and responsible uses of knowledge. In doing so I will:

1. Dare to know: seek to establish truth and knowledge, and to contest false claims

2. Teach well: teach in light of accepted standards, student needs and current research

3. Be public-spirited: engage in public projects and debates where I have needed expertise

4. Be responsible: take care not to misinform, or let others be misled by my claims

5. Be transparent: disclose the evidence, methods and contributions relied on in my work

6. Be collegial: share my learning with scholars and students, and seek to learn from them

7. Be respectful: show courtesy to those who, in good faith, misunderstand or disagree

8. Be open-minded: be ready to amend my views in light of new evidence or insight

9. Be impartial: rely only on accepted criteria when judging others or their work

10. Be scrupulous: declare any conflict of interest that may bias my scholarly judgement.


To the best of my ability I will build my enterprise’s capacity to support academic projects, by strengthening its resources, relationships and reputation, guided by the statements that define its public mission. In doing so I will:

1. Dare to strategise: seek to establish policies and strategies to build my enterprise’s expertise, facilities, finances, assets and external support

2. Manage well: organise and develop people, projects, work routines, systems and budgets, to serve the aims and needs of the enterprise

3. Build trust: treat people with respect and respond to concerns in good faith

4. Be responsible: make sure decisions are made with due consideration of their costs, risks and benefits to all those affected

5. Be compliant: abide by all laws, contracts and authorised decisions relevant to my office

6. Be transparent: report clearly and accurately on the performance of my enterprise, so that others have access to reliable information

7. Be entrepreneurial: reorganise people, projects, work routines, systems and budgets, so that my enterprise can respond effectively to new risks and opportunities

8. Be public-spirited: seek to ensure that my enterprise contributes to economic well-being, social inclusion and environmental sustainability

9. Be open-minded: in the light of experience, be ready to revise my policies and strategies

10. Be scrupulous: refrain from placing my private interests above the corporate interests of my enterprise, the integrity of its mission or strategy, or the rights of its constituencies.

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