The Social Responsibilities of Universities (Gen Ed 1122)





What do universities owe society?


Ethics & Civics icon with text

Julie Reuben

What do universities owe society? Since their origins, universities have been granted special privileges because they have been understood to contribute to 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 tension about how universities can both serve society and remain true to these core values.  Together we will explore how universities’ social responsibilities are debated and enacted in the context of American higher education.

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See also: Ethics & Civics