October 13, 2004

academic separateness

The core of university strength is its ability to produce and disseminate knowledge. Central to that strength is a set of practices that ensure that its knowledge activities meet minimum standards in quality. Quality control has evolved within the academy through the development of tenure and other review processes (e.g. committees on instruction). Our current portfolio of intellectual and practical challenges now requires that we recognize knowledge holders beyond academic institutions and whose stature is determined by processes quite different from those that colleges and universities are familiar with.

Separateness is deeply engrained in the history of academic freedom. That separateness has its origins in the clash between the theological roots of most of our colleges and universities and the rationalism that emerged in parallel with Darwinism in the mid-19th century (Metzger 1955) and that we now associate with scientific objectivity. It has been reinforced by the professionalization of academic disciplines and by feedbacks that call for communities of scholars to define expertise and to certify new members.

Against this historical backdrop, scholars are now turning attention to problems that span several traditional disciplines and, in doing so, have recognized the need for augmented norms in order to evaluate expertise and manage quality. While it is perhaps early to say that the problem has been solved within the academy, ad hoc solutions are well known and evolving.

Expertise that is quantified or recognized by metrics that have little or no overlap with academic credentials poses an as yet unsolved problem. If we are to advance our knowledge networks, we need to solve it.