The Academic Creed

in Theory and Practice


Dr. Paul Trout, Department of English

Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

"Education is not just another business; it is a calling"

Howard Gardner

The Academic Creed

The duty of college professors is to transmit and create knowledge and truth by practicing, and honoring, the time-tested rules and procedures of the knowledge-making enterprise.

Because knowledge and truth can offend and threaten--and provoke suppression and retaliation--we professors have claimed, and have been granted by society, privileges and immunities that protect our socially important endeavor. As we know, "academic freedom" allows us to research, write, and teach within our area of scholarly competence without fear of reprisal from internal or external forces. "Tenure" enables us to pursue truth wherever it might lead--and no matter whom it hurts--by protecting us from being fired without due process and good cause. And "peer review," by allowing colleagues familiar with our area to knowledgeably evaluate and critique the quality of what we produce, frees us from the threat of having our scholarly work judged by noncomprehending outsiders.

"Academic freedom" and "peer review" work together. Academic freedom does not provide immunity from the dutiful scrutiny and judgment of one's peers, nor does it release one from the obligation to scrutinize one's peers. Peer review--accountability through self-policing--requires us to identify professors who do not perform to minimal standards, or who violate the highly effective procedures and rules of evidence and argumentation that have evolved over centuries to enable us to differentiate knowledge and truth from ignorance and error.

This policing function is especially important, for any form of academic dishonesty represents "an abandonment of principle, a betrayal of essential purpose" (Lewis 11). If widespread enough, violations of academic integrity could threaten to undo the bargain we have made with the larger society, which grants us privileges and immunities only as long as we remain honorably committed to transmitting and creating knowledge and truth.

There are signs that commitment to this academic creed is wavering, if not collapsing. Growing numbers of academics--still, perhaps, only a significant minority of the 900,000 instructors in higher education--play fast and loose with the rules and procedures that allow the knowledge-making enterprise to winnow truth from error. They overlook wrongdoing, deny it, or defend it, and some even go so far as to intimidate and suppress colleagues who dutifully uncover violations of the academic creed. While there are few statistics that illuminate the scope and depth of the problem, an anecdotal tour through the academic landscape reveals a serious erosion of professorial commitment to basic standards of academic integrity (1).

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