The sector shalt be free, fair and never satisfied

Academic freedom has been listed as the first of "10 commandments of higher education" by a leading scholar.

December 13, 2012

Speaking at the Society for Research into Higher Education's annual conference, held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, on 12-14 December, Sir David Watson, professor of higher education and principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford, suggested the Moses-like injunctions for the sector.

Delivering the conference's presidential address on 12 December, Sir David said that universities needed to think harder about their "moral compass", adding that the cardinal rule for the academy should be to "strive to tell the truth".

"Academic freedom, in the sense of following difficult ideas wherever they may lead, is possibly the fundamental 'academic' value," he said.

His second commandment was for universities to "take care in establishing the truth", urging academics to prize the scientific method or the search for "authenticity" in the humanities.

"There's a particular type of academic bad faith, which moves too quickly to rhetoric and persuasion in advance of the secure establishment of the grounds for conviction," he argued.

Other commandments included that universities strive to "be fair" through "equality of opportunity, non-discrimination, and perhaps even affirmative action".

Another called on them to "do no harm" (the "academic equivalent to the Hippocratic oath") and not exploit people or the environment.

His other rules included "keep your promises", "respect your colleagues, your students and especially your opponents" and "sustain the community", arguing that the sector is a "family of institutions" that should work together. He also called on universities to "guard your treasure" (with scholars as "stewards'" of institutions that must continue to operate in the future) and "always be ready to explain" themselves.

"Never be satisfied" is his final commandment and the "golden rule" for scholars, adding that such an injunction was scarcely needed despite managerial pressure.

"Academic communities understood the principles of 'continuous improvement' long before they were adopted by 'management literature'," he said.

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