The entire history of American higher education is grounded in a deep commitment to educate students to become ethical and moral leaders and citizens in a diverse, interdependent world.
College can and should be a time when students make a commitment to reach for excellence in the use of their talents, take responsibility for the integrity and quality of their work, and engage in meaningful practices that prepare them to fulfill their obligations both as students in an academic community and as responsible citizens.
That commitment, while widely acknowledged in college and university mission statements, has often faltered in practice. In the face of widespread uncertainty about the academy’s appropriate role in fostering personal and social responsibility, these issues have been pushed to the edges of the college curriculum, or left mainly to individual student choice.
Colleges and universities espouse the pursuit of excellence, integrity, and civic responsibility. Some have already taken active measures to put issues of personal and civic responsibility at the center of their educational programs. But much more needs to be done to help students embrace and achieve these high ideals.
- that the time is right for a far-reaching and shared commitment to reclaim and revitalize the academy’s role in fostering students’ development of personal and social responsibility.
- that such an effort should be closely tied to an encompassing and substantive vision for students’ overall learning in the college years;
- that students’ values and ethics should not be addressed in isolation from their basic responsibility as learners;
- that values, ethics, and civic responsibility should be integrally woven into the educational goals that students embrace once they make the decision to become candidates for a college degree.
At a time when our nation faces ethical and civic challenges of daunting complexity, it is crucial that we return to the core commitments of personal and social responsibility inherent in liberal education.
A true liberal education involves much more than academic growth:
- It develops a student’s personal qualities by cultivating curiosity about new ideas and differing views, honing the discipline to follow intellectual methods to conclusions, strengthening the capacity to accept criticism, increasing tolerance for ambiguity, and fostering commitment to the imperative for honesty.
- It also involves developing a student’s sense of collective responsibility by helping students learn how to understand the world from others’ perspectives—that fundamental capacity that can lead to the recognition and resolution of moral conflict and the resolve to work with others for a greater public good.
The AAC&U’s Core Commitments Initiative will propel us toward these goals.
Christopher J. Aston
Activities Coordinator, Student Development & International Programs
Director of Academic Assessment
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Pan African Studies
Director of Student Services Center/EOP
Asian American Studies
Dean of Student Affairs
Center for Innovative & Engaged Learning Opportunities
The Association of American Colleges & Universities has contracted with the University of Michigan research team, led by Prof. Eric Dey, to coordinate the Personal and Social Responsibility Institutional Inventory. The Inventory consists of four versions of a survey, designed for four campus constituent groups - students, faculty, student affairs administrators, and academic administrators. These surveys will be accessible through a website and will be taken electronically by a sample from each constituent group. The surveys will be submitted anonymously, though demographic data will be included. The inventory is designed to assess the degree to which students are:
- Striving for excellence;
- Cultivating personal and academic integrity;
- Contributing to a larger community;
- Taking seriously the perspectives of others; and
- Developing competence in ethical and moral reasoning
Few teachers or administrators will deny that the university ought to encourage academic integrity. Hence we can expect some degree of receptivity to our proposals. Moreover, CSUN already has some existing programs and many resources. We can thus begin by bringing these to bear on the students’ experience in the Freshman Writing courses nearly all must take.
We hope to begin changing the institutional and student culture that enables and underlies cheating at all levels. After we have established some infrastructure and a culture of cooperation among the writing faculty on academic integrity, we will begin to scale up the project to include other aspects of personal responsibility (e.g., developing a common understanding and practice with deadlines). As we develop publicity and an infrastructure within the university through these programs, we will then begin to consider ways of extending these programs and changes throughout the university.
To do this, we will work to create a coherent policy, culture, and language between faculty and administration for dealing with academic dishonesty. For example, by creating a common understanding for what counts as cheating and a common commitment to enforcing a shared policy. This will be coupled with writing assignments and exercises to help students understand why cheating is wrong and what its consequences can be for themselves, their peers, their future professions and for society as a whole. With these understandings, they will be able to internalize a commitment to academic integrity. Another important aspect of these programs will be to address some of the root causes of academic dishonesty. For example, we will address the lack of confidence in one’s own voice which many of our students may be affected by, especially given the city’s challenged school system.