The University Record, May 22, 1995

Whitaker bids farewell to Senate Assembly

Academic integrity and academic freedom. Respect and openness. Commitment to learning for all. Accountability.

Recounting the themes that he has touched on over the past five years as provost, Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. last Monday asked Senate Assembly members to continue to consider them as important values of the University community. Whitaker will return to teaching in the fall.

Whitaker took the body to task in particular on the issues of academic freedom and academic integrity, saying that a statement adopted by the body earlier this year uses tenure to escape responsibility for teaching.

"I remain deeply concerned that this body would adopt with such limited discussion a statement on the meaning of tenure that, in my view, so profoundly confuses the roles of tenure in protecting academic freedom. It confuses the notion that not doing one's academic work is without consequence because of tenure. The confusion of freedom and duty, I think, leads many to question the integrity of academics who call, appropriately, for freedom to pursue discovery wherever it takes one and simultaneously assert that this freedom also means that one has limited or no responsibility to those who provide the means to make this freedom possible."

Whitaker said he is "disappointed" in the lack of respect accorded disciplines other than one's own, adding that this is "deeply troubling when it appears in a community of scholars. The stereotyping that rears its ugly head when work in an applied field is discredited by those whose views are based on ignorance, not knowledge, reflects a disgraceful lack of openness and a significant departure from the concept of academic freedom."

New knowledge comes from many sources, Whitaker said, and "that knowledge should be valued in a community such as ours. Mutual respect is essential in a healthy environment to maximize the discovery of new knowledge and new connections among the many disciplines."

Citing the value he has placed on teaching in evaluating promotions and new appointments, the provost said "its importance should be considered much more profoundly."

"Concern for teaching usually reflects a much deeper concern for learning," he said, adding that "learning is a shared process between and among the members of the University community. The University can and should be a community where every member is both student and teacher."

Learning must be held as a central value, Whitaker said, and "demonstrated interest in the learning of others must be a central value in our daily life. Commitment to student learning through high quality teaching in all of its forms should be a fundamental requirement for membership in the community."

Members of the University community must not only be accountable to each other for these values, but also to the broader society. Support by society for the knowledge we produce and transfer to others, Whitaker said, is critical.

"When we fail to meet our responsibilities by lack of concern for teaching our students, by falsifying data to increase our record of 'scholarship,' by intimidating students or others for sexual favors, or by stereotyping each other because of race, gender, geography, field or interest or any other irrelevant criteria, we are held accountable by society."

Noting he had no specific steps to propose, Whitaker said he believes "that faculty and especially faculty governance needs to move its attention from that of protecting assumed privileges of tenure and membership in the academic community to these fundamental value issues.

Too much of your and our time has been concerned with individual privilege and too little with the duties and responsibilities of all."

The issue of accountability is not limited in its application to the U-M, Whitaker added, "but throughout higher education. At stake is the role of independent centers of learning--places that must use well the freedom that society has to date bestowed on universities--the freedom to think and explore the unknown."

Noting that his remarks "may seem unduly harsh," the provost said: "They come from a person who loves the academy--who wants to see it survive--indeed, grow and prosper. I believe that to do so, we must take on the task from within. If not, others surely will."