The Social Responsibilities of Universities (Gen Ed 1122)

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

What do universities owe society?

 

Ethics & Civics icon with text

Julie Reuben

What do universities owe society? Since their origins in medieval Europe, universities have been granted special privileges because they have been understood to contribute to the social welfare. Do these privileges incur corresponding obligations on universities? Should they influence how universities educate their students or create, share and preserve knowledge or conduct their internal affairs? Given that universities have a significant impact on society, what principles should guide their activities to ensure that they serve the public good? While universities have been expected to serve society, they also espouse values, such as academic freedom, institutional autonomy and neutrality, that some see as antithetical to social engagement. The image of the ivory tower, remote and removed from society, captures this vision of the university. As a result, there has been a tension about how universities can both serve society and remain true to these core values. This course examines how questions about universities’ social responsibilities have been debated over the past century in the context of American higher education. We examine specific cases related to students’ education, partnerships with other social institutions, and the use of university policies for social change. Students will be asked to use the specific cases to think through the broader normative questions about the universities’ role in society.

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