Proactively Justifying the Academic Profession's Social Contract
Neil Hamilton, Jerry Gaff, THE FUTURE OF THE PROFESSORIATE: ACADEMIC FREEDOM, PEER REVIEW AND SHARED GOVERNANCE, Washington, D.C. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2009
40 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2009
In recent decades, a combination of market changes and failures of the professions to respond proactively to them has led to an ongoing renegotiation of the social contracts of the peer-review professions (e.g., medicine, law, the professoriate, and accounting). The social contract of each profession is the tacit agreement between society and members of the profession that regulates their relationship with each other, in particular the profession’s control over professional work.
Members of each peer-review profession and their professional organizations carry an ongoing burden to justify to the public why the profession deserves special rights of control over its work different from the control that society and employers exercise over other occupations. Carrying this burden of justification is particularly critical in times of rapid market change. For example, the current recession is a time of great market pressure on higher education when decreasing state budgets and endowments mean that expenditures must be cut. To maintain its control over professional work, the professoriate should be offering an aggressive defense of the public benefits derived from the academic profession’s social contract. A robust defense is also necessary if ethical failures by individual professionals become widely known and undermine public trust in the profession’s social contract.
This essay’s central argument is that members of a peer-review profession cannot aggressively justify and defend their control over professional work when they do not understand the social contract and their duties under it. The continuing failure of the academic profession adequately to socialize its members has resulted in a steady erosion of the profession’s rights of academic freedom, peer review, and shared governance. The profession at each college and university must address this failure.
Keywords: Academic freedom, Professoriate, Academics, Peer-Review, Professions, Colleges, Universities
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