The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation 

Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D.

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

The art of teaching is to teach, to teach well and to teach even better.

Chapter IV.             Professional Responsibilities

Faculty oft times fail to see the forest for the trees.  They are in the midst of a forest of responsibilities and are blinded to them as they focus on their freedoms.  From time to time a faculty member will hit upon a tree when confronted with a responsibility not realized or overlooked or failed to fulfill.  Still the forest is not seen. It is not seen in its entirety nor is it seen for what it is.  The listing of responsibilities is daunting in itself.

I. Basic Responsibilities towards others as a human being

II. Professional Responsibilities as an educator

  • Individual Responsibility -professional fiduciary responsibility to the learner

  • Collective responsibilities

  • Social Responsibilities

III. Professional Responsibilities to an academic discipline

IV. Professional Responsibilities to the profession of education

V. Professional Responsibilities to the educational institution

How to see the forest?   How to manage so many responsibilities?  It appears to be the case that there are many educators for whom it may be easier to attempt to ignore some of the responsibilities than to fulfill them.  This is particularly the case where there are few, if any, colleagues acknowledging their collective responsibilities and where there are few, if any, mechanisms in place for the fulfillment within the institutional setting. But there are problems that result from ignoring responsibilities as well as problems that result from, in some cases willful, ignorance of the responsibilities and there are further problems that result from conflict in responsibilities.

In considering the responsibilities that attach to educators in virtue of their being members of a profession it is not possible to render an account that accurate and without presenting the relationship of some of the individual responsibilities of educators to the responsibilities they have collectively and those responsibilities that accrue to educational institutions.  Thus in this chapter there will be presentations on all three:

  • Individual Responsibilities

  • Collective Responsibilities

  • Institutional Responsibilities

Individual Responsibilities of Educators 

Some of the responsibilities born by members of the profession of education are carried by each individual member and some are the shared or are the collective responsibility of members of the profession.  Educators assume individual professional responsibilities and obligations through their voluntary entry into the profession.  There are norms governing the behavior of members of any profession and education is no exception to this.  There are different kinds of professional norms.  According to Michael D. Bayles they are:

Obligations- these express the requirements of professional norms. They are the prescriptions and proscriptions of a norm: what is right or wrong to do or not to do or be.

Standards -Standards of virtue or vice present desirable or undesirable character traits to be sought or avoided.

Permissions- what a professional may do but is not obliged to do.

Other norms include principles and  rules:

Principles- these prescribe responsibilities.  Principles are general and not specific leaving their interpretation and application to the professionals. 

Rules-These prescribe duties that specify conduct and leave no room for discretion or judgment of individual professionals. 

Principles can be used to justify rules and to provide guidance in situations not covered by specific rules.-----Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981. p. 21:

The total of professional responsibilities for educators can be expressed through an enumeration such as will be presented below but it could also be expressed in a single maxim taken as the most basic principle of the profession of education:

To teach, to teach well, and to teach even better.

The first responsibility then is to teach.  This is what defines the relationship of educator to learner.  The instructor enters the role with the assumption of this responsibility as basic and defining the relationship, the role and purpose of the relationship.  The responsibility is not simply to teach but to teach well so as not to fail in any way to provide those served with the most effective instruction possible and in order to provide exemplars for novice instructors. As is established below the professional educator has a fiduciary relationship with the learner and that relationship incorporates and is defined by the dual responsibilities of providing benefit and avoiding harm.  Not to teach well would be to teach in a manner that was not effective or as effective as it might be.  Not to teach well is to fail to fulfill the basic positive professional responsibility of an educator toward the leaner.

Beyond teaching well there is the responsibility to teach even better.  Why is this so?  There are a number of reasons why there is a responsibility to teach even better. For the most part they arise out of the basic responsibility to teach.   To teach well there must be a continual monitoring of the effectiveness of instruction.  If that process reveals that instruction is less effective than is needed, desired, or possible then adjustments need to be made by the professional educator in order to fulfill the basic responsibilities to teach and to teach well.  In the process of making adjustments the professional educator is teaching even better. 

No matter how well an instructor might teach in time the learners will change and there will be a need for the instructor to make adjustments in order to teach well.  There will be over time developments in the academic disciplines being taught and in pedagogy.  The professional educator will stay current with both the content of the instructional program and with the most effective pedagogies for providing instruction of that content.  In staying current the instructor teaches even better than previously. 

Instructors at any level and in any type of institutional setting who do not vary the content or the manner of their instruction over years and even decades are not teaching well at all.  It is entirely unreasonable to hold that over time there are no developments in either the discipline or in pedagogy that would necessitate changes in instruction.   The professor lecturing a class using a syllabus that is decades old and lecture notes on yellowing pages  is not a paradigm for a professional educator.

As an educator is a professional as such there is a responsibility to the profession to further the profession and that would involve teaching well enough to serve to advance the profession and to offer support of colleagues just entering the profession if only through modeling behavior.  This relationship of an educator to professional colleagues and the profession itself supports the responsibility to teach even better.

To teach even better there must be efforts to improve upon what already works well.  That effort involves experimentation.  That experimentation involves human beings. Experimentation as a responsibility of professional educators will be the topic of the next chapter.  There are important ethical concerns whenever performing experiments with human beings and they will be brought up in the next two chapters and in chapter eight as well.

While the preparation of educators and instruction as to their responsibilities may vary nonetheless all educators share in a basic set of responsibilities as professionals.   Peers may not always hold one another accountable to the same level and they may be lax in requiring and evaluating and enforcing the fulfillment of responsibilities. This variation in the level of awareness of professional obligation does not dissolve those obligations.  That they are sometime recognized and fulfilled is sufficient to indicate their active existence.  The profession of education is, as are most others, a living body and it is maturing in its awareness as generally understood of the basic responsibilities and the ethical issues related to the profession. 

It is as members of the profession of education that each educator acquires the obligation to forward the progress of the profession by contributing to it.  To contribute to the profession of education includes developing more effective methods for educating.  This is what constitutes the duty to conduct pedagogic research in some form and to do so on a continuing basis. 

To qualify to teach and then to actually teach is the minimum for entry into the profession of education.  To teach well is the standard for being maintained and for acquiring status or recognitions within the profession of education.  To teach even better is the means through which the profession makes progress.  Educators owe it to themselves and to those they teach to teach.  They owe it to their students to teach well.  They owe it to their students and to their profession to teach even better. 

Not every member of the profession participates in that profession to the same degree in effort or enthusiasm or degree of responsibility.  There are the initiates and the retirees, the elder statespersons and there are the exemplars and the minimalists.  But at some time or other every member of the profession who is or has been a legitimate member of it has had to fulfill the basic set of responsibilities as are instantiated in their particular situations.  Not all members of a profession are well known within it and not all make the same contribution to it as do its stellar members.  Some members fall into disrepute as they fail in their responsibilities in some glaring manner that calls attention to their particular case and calls into question the continuation of their status as members. 

Responsibilities of Professional Educators 

The basic responsibilities of professional educators are generated from the set an educator acquires through a voluntary entry into the profession and the basic obligation to cause no harm.  It is the latter that serves as a check on the excesses that the former set might incline a professional to commit in an overzealous attempt to serve the interests of the profession, losing sight of the wider set of basic interests of those served by the profession and their basic rights as humans, including that of not being harmed. 

As a professional educator the individual instructor acquires the responsibility to teach as well as possible and to do everything to insure successful outcomes for learners.  This in turn generates the need for pedagogic research.  If the responsibilities are exercised without a check then pedagogic experiments could be devised wherein groups of learners, perhaps experimental groups, could be deliberately subjected to actual harms. 

There are many attempts to limn out the responsibilities of educators.  Perhaps there is no more impressive nor comprehensive a list as was set out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1997  in its Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, 11-November-1997,

The responsibilities of professional educators are not of equal importance and the importance they each have varies in degree with the type of institution and level of education and the discipline being taught. For example at the level of post secondary education there operates a set of unique circumstance and considerations.  Thus, there exist both additional obligations and a different manner in which the obligations common to all levels of education are fulfilled.  Included among these are: 

  • Teach well

  • Refrain from paternalism -when adult learners are involved

  • Observe Academic Freedom

  • Keep current with the field of knowledge

  • Add to knowledge in one’s discipline/field

  • Develop new members of the discipline/field/profession

Professional educators have a responsibility as such to focus on pedagogy and the improvement of the efficacy of the pedagogies employed by each instructor with each group of learners.  When juxtaposing this responsibility to those acquired as a member of a discipline the resulting allocation of time will vary with the nature of the institution and its learners being served.  Individual educators might spend nearly 100% of their time as professionals considering pedagogy and pedagogic research at the elementary level of education while those teaching at community colleges might spend 50% and those at research colleges and universities 25 %.  Graduate instructors in professional schools might even devote less time to consideration of pedagogy but in no case should a professional educator devote no time to considering pedagogy and pedagogic research.  This notion of pedagogic research includes both the formal and informal modes for conducting research and for the dissemination of that research. 

In no case should a professional educator devote no time at all to considering pedagogy and pedagogic research. 

The responsibilities of educators are many and varied.  There are responsibilities that are positive, some that are negative and some that may be categorized as being either individual or collective.

When the focus of any professional is on some code of conduct the focus is generally on the negative responsibilities. A profession operating with a code of conduct and with no more general or fundamental statement of basic ethical principles it operates as a guild.   Most such codes are created in an effort to benefit members of the guild and to protect the profession or the guild from external review and interference in the form of legislation and regulation from the society in which the profession hopes to exist and flourish.  Professional codes of conduct or of ethics can enhance the identification of professionals with colleagues and guide their behavior towards one another and on behalf of one another and so they exhibit concern for etiquette and economic production and protections.

Alan Goldman has observed that

Perhaps the least cynical and sinister causal explanation for the nature of these codes, short of attributing their cannons to dispassionate consideration and criticism of the moral arguments, would appeal to the understandably single minded-pursuit of goals central to professional practice and service, goals with great  social value, like health care and economic production.  It is natural for professionals to elevate the primary concerns of their particular  professions to predominant status, even when they are opposed by values equally prominent in our common moral framework.--- Goldman, Alan. The Moral Foundations of Professional Ethics. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980. p. 292.

Thus,  fear of external regulation from the general society generates the need for self policing and in turn generates the guidelines and codes intended to hold off the external forces.

Many but not all professions have developed what they term as “codes of ethics” to present their relevant norms.   Violations of codes can result in loss of membership in the profession.  Such codes are comprised of statements of the obligations of individuals.  They do not generally cover the responsibilities of the profession as a whole or as a collective.  Some collective responsibilities are born by individuals and others cannot be and so the profession must find expression for how such collective responsibilities will be fulfilled.  -- Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981. p.23.

What then serves as the basis for an explication of the responsibilities of an educator?  There are a variety of ethical models of the relationship of the professional to the client that can assist in thinking through what it is that establishes the general obligations of professionals to their clients.  They need to deal with the basic issues of responsibility in decision making. 

The central issue in the professional-client relationship is the allocation of responsibility and authority in decision-making-who make what decision.  The ethical models are in effect models of different distribution of authority and responsibility in decision-making.--Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 68.

 These models include:

  1. Agency

  2. Contract

  3. Friendship

  4. Paternalism

  5. Fiduciary

The first three models assume the professional and client (learner-student) are roughly equal.  This is decidedly not the case in education as the educator is in that position by virtue of having knowledge and skills not possessed, or to the degree, as does the student-learner.  Thus, they are inapplicable in education.

There is a need to emphasize that the model that assigns moral responsibility in education is one that carries the notion that there needs to be a shared responsibility for the learning.

We simply need to recognize that students and professors must share responsibility for education. Any paradigm like academe's view of the student as customer -- that places a majority of the responsibility for success on one side alone is doomed to failure, just like treating a disease without the participation of both doctor and patient.---Phillip H. Shelley is dean of the graduate school at Eastern New Mexico University. " Colleges Need to Give Students Intensive Care", The Chronicle of Higher Education., Section: The Chronicle Review, Volume 51, Issue 18, Page B16.

When there are situations in which the professional has in some ways a superior position to the client and must assume a greater share of the responsibility in making decisions then the relationship moves to paternalistic or fiduciary. 

With paternalism:

    1. the agent or professional has superior knowledge and judgment
    2. the client is incapable of giving a fully free and informed consent
    3. persons in the position of client should come to accept that decisions made by the professional/agent were on behalf of the client and in the interests of the client

Not only does the paternalistic model sacrifice client freedom and autonomy, but as a result client values and interests are also sacrificed. --Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 68.

As a general characterization of what the professional-client relationship should be, one needs a concept in which the professional’s superior knowledge is recognized, but the client retains a significant authority and responsibility in decision-making. --Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 68.

 In a fiduciary relationship, both parties are responsible and their judgments are given consideration.  Because one party is in a more advantageous position, he or she has special obligations to the other.  The weaker party depends upon the stronger in ways in which the other does not and so must trust the stronger party.

The appropriate ethical conception of the professional-client relationship is one that allows clients as much freedom to determine how their life is affected as is reasonably warranted on the basis of their ability to make decisions….As clients have less knowledge about the subject matter for which the professional is engaged, the special obligations of the professional in the fiduciary model become more significant.  The professional must assume more responsibility for formulating plans, presenting their advantages and disadvantages, and making recommendations.  …the less a client’s knowledge and capacity to understand, the greater the professional’s responsibilities to the client.  --Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 69. 

A fiduciary relationship obtains when the parties are in a relation that involves the confidence or trust of one in another.  The fiduciary is given trust by the other and that is because such trust is needed to permit the fiduciary to do what it is that the fiduciary is to do for the other. 

The fiduciary ethical model of the professional-client relationship emphasizes a professional’s special obligations to be worthy of a client trust….-Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 69. .

The fiduciary has the basic responsibility (beneficence) to provide for those services specific to the particular relationship (trustee, accountant, lawyer, teacher) in a manner that is to the benefit of the client (student). The reciprocation of that trust placed in the fiduciary is the responsibility (non-malfeasance) not to violate the trust by causing any harm to come to the other who has surrendered some degree of autonomy in the relationship and placed it in trust and in confidence in the fiduciary.  To fail in either responsibility is malfeasance and dereliction of duty.  The relationship establishing such responsibilities is entered into by the recipient of the services of the fiduciary or by that person’s guardian or by the state on behalf of the recipients.  The relationship involves a surrendering of some autonomy and the acceptance of some degree of paternalism on the part of the fiduciary who serves minors and the incapacitated and legally incompetent.  

 …some clients are not competent to make decisions.  In this case the paternalistic model becomes appropriate. -Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 69.

The six obligations of professionals to clients can be stated as standards of a good and trustworthy professional.  A good professional is honest, candid, competent, diligent, loyal and discrete. --Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981.p. 70-71.

Positive Responsibilities of Educators

There are a number of basic and positive responsibilities of educators.  The first is to those served and the second to the profession and the third to colleagues.

  1. to fulfill fiduciary responsibilities to learners-to educate them and to care for those who receive instruction in a manner that benefits the learners and avoids harm

  2. to improve individual performance within the profession

a) research with experimentation into more effective pedagogies

    • disseminated formally through publication

    • disseminated informally through direct communications

          b) research without experimentation

    • disseminated formally through publication

    • disseminated informally through direct communications

  3. to assist colleagues to improve on their performance

  • communicating the results of research either formally or informally

  • Observing and assessing the performance of colleagues

Negative Responsibilities of Educators 

There are a number of basic and negative responsibilities of educators.  Again they arise from the basic principle and the relationship of the educator to those served, their profession and their colleagues.

  1. Do no harm to those being served-taught: the learners

  2. Do not steal: ideas , time , materials from colleagues or those being served

  3. Do not lie to colleagues or to those being served.

  4. Do not misrepresent to colleagues or to those being served.

  5. Do not conceal from colleagues the results of ones personal experiences with pedagogy or the results of research with or without experimentation

  6. Do not conceal from society evidence of poor or dangerous practices   

Collective Responsibilities of Educators 

There are those responsibilities that cannot be accomplished or fulfilled through the actions of individual members of the profession.  They are shared or distributed across the membership and require collective action to realize.  The responsibility to forward the progress of the profession is a collective responsibility.  Each member of the profession participates in the activities that accomplish the end of moving the profession forward. Collectively educators set the standards to be observed by members and make note when they are not so observed.  This is done with respect for Academic Freedom which is also an expression of the collective right of the profession.    In may well be that some of the most perplexing and troublesome situations that educators face can only be effectively addressed through collective action.  

It is through the exercise of collective responsibilities that faculty can exercise academic freedom for without vigilant efforts to maintain the conditions that promote and safeguard such academic freedom it is placed in peril.  It is the actions of the collective that are the most effective mechanism for the assertion, maintenance, preservation and exercise of academic freedom.   Part of the difficulties faced by educators with regard to matters related to academic freedom is the result of the failure of faculty to accept their dual identity as both academicians and educators that inhibits their acting on behalf of their colleagues and themselves to establish and safeguard the conditions within which academic freedom is recognized and respected.  Members of the faculty have a responsibility to educate members of the academy of the faculty as to their identity as  professional educators.  Without the acceptance of this identity and its incumbent responsibilities the exercise of the collective responsibilities become more difficult and in some institutional settings impossible to carry out.  Yet the exercise of the collective responsibility to assert and defend academic freedom is necessary if faculty are to do what they are responsible to do and that is to expand on knowledge and seek truth and to pass it on to their students along with the development of those intellectual skills involved in securing such knowledge..

It is a well known phenomena, quite wide spread, that non-tenured members of a faculty are reluctant to exercise their academic freedom and speak out in criticism of programs and practices at their institutions an even within their departments.  It would be a different matter were faculty to act collectively to assure the non-tenured that they have the freedom to pursue knowledge and truth and to participate in efforts at their institution to bring about the conditions that support such pursuits even if that were to involve criticisms of programs and practices.  Assurance would not stop with informing faculty that they have a right to do something but also that they will be protected from retributions for their exercise of their rights and protected by the collective actions of the faculty and by the mechanisms put in place to provide for such protection by the collective action of faculty.  

Individual educators have the responsibility to teach, teach well and teach even better.  The collective has the responsibility to assist its members to fulfill their responsibility to teach, teach well and teach even better.

As an example take the responsibility to contribute to the profession of education and move it forward. Conducting research into the effectiveness of pedagogy and developing new pedagogies are contributions to the profession that strengthen it and make for progress.  Each member contributes to that effort.  Collectively the result makes for progress.  Seldom is the contribution of an individual member so significant as to singularly be responsible for moving the entire profession forward. 

Take as another example the all too familiar case of a single class of 30 in which 5 withdraw, 5 fail and 20 receive passing grades.  What of those failures?  Whose are they?  If some learners are not learning and in fact are failing then what is the responsibility of individual instructors?  Could the instructors have done better?  If so then the instructors should have done better.  But it might be the case that the instructors could not have done any better with a class of learners in which some failed not due to the instructor’s not doing more that could be done but instead the instructors could not have done more to effectively assist those who failed to learn as much as they might due to the failure of the institution to support the instructional program better.  The individual instructors might have large class sizes and large teaching loads and not have the time or resources to meet the needs of individual learners with additional attention, instruction, information, time, etc… In such cases, the faculty as a whole has the responsibility to address the issue of institutional support to permit them to provide for effective instruction for learners. The faculty as a whole must act to set limits and act to provide for the support needed for instructors and learners to succeed.  Faculty must act collectively through governance structures to insure that they do all that they can to assist individual faculty to fulfill their obligations.   There is an expanded presentation of this situation faced by many educators in chapter eleven below.  In the sample case study presented in that chapter there is illustrated an interplay of individual , collective and institutional responsibilities.

These cases meet the conditions for Collective Responsibility as described by James Muyskens:

1. Some members of a group perform undesirable acts according to the group or profession.

2. Members act in accord with the group's way of life or culture.

3. The aspects of the undesirable acts are below the general standards set by the group or profession.

4. It is not necessarily the case that the individuals are falling below those standards, least wise not of their own accord.

--  Muyskens, James L. Moral Problems in Nursing: A Philosophical Investigation. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982.

Collective Responsibilities are often in play when an individual instructor can not fulfill professional responsibilities according to the standards set by the profession due to conditions for which there is no effective way for an individual instructor to remedy them. Collective Responsibilities are often in play when educational institutions fail to fulfill their own responsibilities. At the level of higher education the faculty as a whole under governance and in exercise of their academic freedom must set the conditions under which individual instructors will fulfill their instructional responsibilities.  Such faculty set class size and pre-requisites thought by the profession to be needed to insure and support the efficacy of instruction. 

Joel Feinberg describes and compares four distinct and logically possible types of collective or group moral responsibility arrangements. These are: group liability without fault, group liability with noncontributory fault, contributory group fault: collective and distributive, and contributory group fault: collective but not distributive.---Feinberg, Joel, “Collective Responsibility”, Journal of Philosophy, vol. LXV, no. 21 (November 1968), pp. 222–51.

The faculties of various schools, colleges and universities would be instances of organizations that have a collective or group moral responsibility.

This fourth type, contributory group fault: collective but not distributive, is an arrangement which provides for group moral responsibility that is independent of any responsibility or moral fault ascribable to all or any of its individual members. It is the group itself that is at fault and the group's moral responsibility is not equivalent to the sum of the responsibilities of its members. Group moral responsibility of this type is a concept that allows the entire issue of widespread harm associated with organizational activities to be treated differently in many respects from the approach that has been dominant.  The final type of collective responsibility is the only one of the four in which culpability is not reducible. 

If a group, separate from its members, can be morally responsible and liable to punishment, concerns regarding the moral status of such groups are raised, including what similarities and differences in moral status exist between groups and individual human agents. Further, if groups can be morally responsible agents, regarded as entities distinct from their members, questions about their ontological status are also raised.-David T. Risser, “Collective Moral  Responsibility", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,2005,

There are calls in some quarters to recognize the collective responsibility of faculty in a more formal sense. Diether H. Haenicke, President of Western Michigan University  indicates a need for norms for the conduct of faculty and for their being held collectively responsible for certain situations that obtain.

I continue to argue strongly for a written code of ethics for the academic profession. The policy statements issued by the AAUP do not suffice, mainly because they are vague in their essentials and, most importantly because, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single case in the history of the AAUP that involves even as little as a public reprimand of one of its members for ethical or professional misconduct, not to speak of dismissal. Campus faculty themselves have to develop these ethics codes, and some campuses have already begun. We need to find standards that speak not only to sexual harassment but to consensual relationships; that examine conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment; that illuminate our professional obligations to students and colleagues; and that wed our desire for shared university governance with the commitment to be held collectively responsible for what goes on and what goes wrong in the university.---Diether H. Haenicke, "Academic Malpractice: The Need for a Code of Professional Ethics", PERSPECTIVES on the Professions, Vol. 9, No. 1, August 1989 Academic Ethics: Shoes for the Cobbler's Children,

The notion of collective responsibility as applies to corporate entities is fairly commonly recognized.  There is evidence that the concept of collective responsibility as it would apply to the teaching faculty as a whole is gaining acknowledgment in a variety of quarters.  It is seen in "Codes" of professional ethics, such as at Sterling College

Faculty members should present the subject matter of courses as announced to students and as approved by the faculty in their collective responsibility for the curriculum.

Individual faculty members are making known their realization of the collective responsibility of faculty in which they participate.

What never occurred to me until at least the mid-l980s was the idea that I might be responsible, even a contributor, to the overall learning not only of my students but of students whom I never taught or even saw. ...By collective responsibility I mean collaborating with the rest of the faculty in studying the effect of our work on students. This is faculty teamwork at its academic best...For too long have we ignored our collective responsibility as educators in furthering our students' education. If we persist in our indifference to working with our colleagues, we will never learn just how complex a process that teaching and learning are.--Donald Halog, "Assessment and Collective Responsibility", First Annual General Education Assessment Retreat, Delta College, May 18, 2001.

Faculty are realizing that collective responsibility obtains in a variety of circumstances involving the delivery of instruction.

Team teaching requires team building, collaborative skills, and collective responsibility...Teachers in learning communities also have a collective responsibility to articulate the community or program theme.--Jody Levine Laufgraben and Daniel Tompkins  "Pedagogy That Builds Community " in Jody Levine Laufgraben,  Nancy S. Shapiro and Associates. Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities,  Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA., 2004.

The National Education Association promotes the recognition of collective responsibility for faculty.

Collective responsibility for student learning is an organizational issue as well as an instructional one.---National Education Association, "A Commitment to Success: Taking Collective Responsibility for All Students' Learning", in Advocate Online: Thriving on Academe, April, 2002.

The National Science Teachers Association relies on the notion of collective responsibility and does so when promoting the idea of Science Teacher Professionalism.

The profession assumes collective responsibility for defining, communicating, and enforcing professional standards of practice and ethics...Science teachers assume responsibility for enabling learners to reach their potential... Science teachers collectively establish and continually revise standards of practice, model ethical behavior, and account for their actions.-- NSTA "Position Statement: Science Teacher Professionalism",

The concept has been recognized in relation to the process of improving the effectiveness of instruction.

Fourthly, the locus of responsibility should not be regarded as solely with the individual teacher. By encouraging staff to think about a collective responsibility for teaching within a department the isolation of lecturers can be removed. Historically there have been a lack of safe places where discussion about teaching can take place. POT can play a large role in creating an environment in which such discussions can occur.

....Subject staff need to be able to engage critically with conceptions of teaching  (Ho IJAD 2000) through dialogue with peers. Teaching must become a discussible topic to challenge what is taken for granted. Through collective peer review teaching can become a matter of collective responsibility and not individual blame or praise. But staff are less familiar with discussing teaching than research methods. To tackle this problem we need to consider ways of making teaching important and to find ways of valuing reflection? Teaching staff need to develop a language to discuss teaching and adopt a more scholarly approach to discussion of it through a peer review model. 
---David Gosling, "Models of Peer Observation of Teaching",    August 2002.


At Lane Community College there is a Strategic Learning Initiative that is a faculty-led partnership with Lane’s administration to create increased capacity for innovation and to carry out major, systemic change of the learning environment.  It provides a mechanism for:

improving the systems through which faculty innovate and exercise collective responsibility for enhancing the students’ learning environment.

This initiative realizes the essential professional collective responsibility of its faculty:

Faculty are the natural leaders of this change process because of their skills and expertise, their deep professional commitment to student learning, and the faculty’s commitment to the quality of their profession which suffers if it doesn’t actively improve itself. Practically, there are no realistic alternatives to faculty leadership. If major systemic improvements are to be made soon in the learning environment, the effort must be faculty led. The SLI is structured so that faculty and faculty values predominate at all levels from guiding the whole SLI to creating and carrying out specific innovations.---Lane Community College,  "What is Lane’s Strategic Learning Initiative?",May 2004.

This initiative was the result of a collectively bargained agreement to insure institutional support for the activities which enable faculty to exercise their collective responsibility.  Focus next turns on the notion of institutional responsibility which, as in the case of Lane Community College, should work in relation to the collective responsibility of the faulty to better enable the faculty and the institution through the work of its faculty to realize their mission.

If the notion of collective responsibility is accepted and acted upon by the instructional staff it would serve as the mitigating mechanism for the tension and even antagonisms that exists in the relation of individual educators to the institution and its management.

It is through the exercise of collective responsibility that faculties can obtain an institutional response adequate to remedy the concerns and problems faced by individual educators.  Why should this be so?  Why would an institution give institutional support to its faculty upon its collective assertion of a need?  The mission of the institution is only accomplished through its faculty doing what they are responsible to do.  The institution has as its responsibility the fulfillment of its mission.  The faculty have as their individual and collective responsibility to advance the profession and to advance the effectiveness of instruction.  The institution would support  the fulfillment of those responsibilities of educators because it is through the fulfillment of those responsibilities that there will be better teaching: the continuing improvement in the efficacy of instruction.  It is through the continuing improvement in the efficacy of instruction that there will be higher student achievement.  It is higher student achievement that will produce a higher retention rate and a higher graduation rate.   These improvements not only are in keeping with the mission of the institution but often have a direct and positive effect on the funding of the institution.

Academic Freedom relates to the faculty as a collective in several ways needed to support the Academic Freedom of individual educators.  The concept and right to Academic Freedom has been recognized several times over by the Supreme Court who have held that Academic Freedom is to be respected for academic institutions and faculty to determine: 

  1. Who will teach- appointment , promotion and tenure

  2. What will be taught- curricula development and construction

  3. How it will be taught- pedagogy- instructional design-modality of instruction

  4. To whom it will be taught- who will be admitted to study – admissions policies and programs

So, Academic Freedom exists within the confines of the academic world and also within its practices and standards and norms.  It exists for faculty, only within that context within the academic community and amongst professional academicians.  However, Academic Freedom is not absolute license; it is circumscribed by appropriate academic judgments by individual academicians and by the collectives of academicians acting on a departmental or college wide level to make decisions about what to teach, how to teach it, who will teach and who will be taught and matters related to those four basic activities, decisions and responsibilities.

The Academic Freedom of the individual member of the faculty is often thought about as the freedom to make extramural utterances and there have been many cases brought to the attention of the public involving such.  Such acts of academicians are protected as a special concern of the First Amendment Right.  The other senses in which an individual faculty member has a right to Academic Freedom is within the academy when participating in the acts of deciding who will teach, what to teach and how it will be taught and to whom.  Within those provinces the right of  an individual faculty member is not absolute.  Each member of the faculty must act within the parameters and according to the norms as established by professional educators and colleagues.  Such parameters and norms as set through the collective actions of the faculty who have the collective responsibility as professional educators to do such.  When so acting within those parameters and norms the individual faculty member is to be afforded freedom from the interference of those outside of the academy.


Institutional Responsibilities 

There is a Pedagogic Imperative for any educational institution. An educational institution has an obligation to: 

  • accomplish its mission and to do so as well as possible given its resources 

  • report to its stakeholders (public or private) how well it is doing, given the resources provided by those stakeholders. 

What is the primary mission?  It is education.  The teaching faculty have each the the responsibility to teach, teach well and teach even better.  The faculty as a collective has the responsibility to work together to assist its members to fulfill their responsibility to teach, teach well and teach even better.  The institution has the responsibility to assist that collective to fulfill its  responsibility to teach, teach well and teach even better.  Toward that end it has a responsibility to assess: 

  •  how well it serves that public through the achievement of its mission

  •  how many of its students achieve their academic objectives (not necessarily a degree)

  •  the achievement of the degree objectives by each of its degree recipients

  •  fulfillment of other items in its mission

  •  the degree of institutional responsibility for those who do not achieve their academic objectives 

To insure fulfillment of its institutional responsibilities each educational institution should have an institutional assessment program including: 

  •  Institutional Review of Institutional Performance-retention and progress of learners towards their goals 

  • Institutional Review Board or a Quality Assurance Review that exists in order to review individual cases of failure of a learner to achieve academic goals in order to identify those factors within the institution that may have contributed to that failure and to recommend solutions 

An essential component in its set of responsibilities is to provide for the best possible instructional program.  Toward that end the institution must:  

  • assist faculty as a whole and as individuals to assess the efficacy of their pedagogic techniques, methodologies, and modalities 

  • assist faculty to improve the efficacy of instruction based on adequate assessment and research 

  • assist faculty in recognizing, accepting and fulfilling their collective responsibilities

Educational institutions at all levels need an infrastructure with regard to pedagogy itself, providing support for research into and development of teaching and learning for each member of the instructional staff.  This is what has been lacking for some time, perhaps all time, in higher education.  The recent explosion of centers for teaching and learning (CETL) is merely the acknowledgment of the need.   

The educational technologies currently available and being adopted by faculty are forcing those involved with them to consider the pedagogy involved.  Examples of their successful adoptions forcefully illustrate the need for institutional support for faculty seeking to use them effectively.  Most colleges are still a long way from recognizing, let alone adequately responding to that need.  Faculty themselves are starting to recognize their own more general responsibility to research and develop more effective pedagogies than they are currently using-the explosion in the "field" called the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL).   Higher education does not yet have the infrastructure of support for faculty to successfully carry out their dual responsibilities as educators and members of a discipline.   

When educational institutions fail in their institutional responsibilities it becomes the case that educators have the collective responsibility to address those failures and remedy them in some manner.  It is beyond the capacity of individual educators to effect institutional reform.   It is often the case that the collective responsibility is exercised through professional organizations performing studies and issuing guidelines and participating in assessments and accreditation processes.   Collective bargaining organizations have often proven to be the single most effective medium for the exercise of collective responsibilities. 

The assumption of responsibility for the success of the learners becomes an institutional moral responsibility. The members of the staff and faculty realize that they have a collective responsibility to those served.  All members of the faculty and staff realize that they must do their part and assist others to do their parts in order to achieve the goal of service to those who come to the college for an education.  If this responsibility is realized and fulfilled it not only better enables both individual educators to do what they need to do and accomplish but also better enables the institution to do what it needs to do through its faculty.  Thus it is in part an institutional responsibility to foster the recognition and acceptance of collective responsibility and its development and fulfillment.

The Lumina Foundation has done research that indicates institutional responsibility is one of four principle factors related to access and success in postsecondary Education.  ---Lumina Foundation, "What We Know about Access and Success in Postsecondary Education: Informing Lumina Foundation's Strategic Direction",

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education notes institutional responsibilities as important in determining the overall outcomes and

T]he extent to which each educational institution accepts and fulfills the responsibilities inherent in that process is a measure of its concern for freedom, independence and quality in higher education and its commitment to striving for and achieving excellence in its endeavors.

There are many ways in which institutions may affirm the value and realize the benefits of accreditation.  As each undertakes its institutional self-study and participates in other aspects of the accrediting process, the Commission urges particular attention to several basic institutional responsibilities. The institution's commitment to quality and regard for accreditation fundamentals are reflected in an institution's integrity in dealing with its constituencies and the public; involvement of administrators, faculty, students, and others in the self-study process; and commitment to continuous improvement. --Middle States Commission on Higher Education,

Institutions of higher education have a certain institutional autonomy.  As expressed in the AAUP "General Declaration of Principles" in 1915 ) they exist to serve three purposes:

  1. To promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge.
  2. To provide general instruction to the students.
  3. To develop experts for various branches of the public service.

Autonomy was granted to such institutions to better enable them to fulfill those purposes.  Such autonomy had and continues to have a practical benefit for society in as much the advancement of knowledge and the preparation of knowledgeable members of society with intellectual capital has great social value. 

 In the next chapter the focus is turned upon the particular responsibility of educators to conduct pedagogic research and experimentation.

@copyright 2004 by S. Kincaid and P. Pecorino

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