The Ethics of Academic Institutions

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A modern university is a complex institution which operates in various, often conflicting, spheres. It is, first and foremost, a research institution, operating within the rarefied spheres of scientific research and humanistic scholarship. As such, it is committed to the free exchange of ideas and, accordingly, to the principles of academic freedom. However, research in modern economies is often facilitated by governmental, as well as corporate funding. Much scientific, medical, and technological research that is conducted in contemporary universities cannot be imagined without the contribution of public and private funding agencies. Unfortunately, these agencies may have priorities of their own, especially regarding the "free" exchange of ideas, which may be patented for commercial and industrial purposes, and may sometimes turn out to be harmful for the public policies or commercial interests of the funding agencies. Such conflicts may impose difficult dilemmas upon researchers in universities and academic institutions. Secondly, modern universities are institutions of higher education, serving large populations of students. In this capacity, universities often have to make delicate decisions as to the nature and composition of their student bodies. should they be governed, in their educational policies, by strictly meritocratic principles, allowing only the highest achievers into their ranks, or should they acknowledge past injustices, or inequalities, and a role to themselves in rectifying them in various ways, and particularly through the composition of their student bodies. These issues present dilemmas that are not easy to solve. Thirdly, modern universities are public bodies, often operating in the public sphere as publicly supported organizations. As such they are subject to governmental regulation and public policy making. Dilemmas arise as to the relative autonomy of such institutions vis-a-vis their governments, the relative powers of academic vs. administrative governing bodies within the universities, and so on. In short, these different spheres of action, the scientific, the commercial and the public, merge in the daily activities of contemporary universities and impact, often adversely, the activities of university teachers, researchers, administrators and students.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-192
JournalThe Journal of the World Universities Forum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Academic Ethics


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