The Role of Responsibility in the Curriculum

April 18, 2008

Solid majorities of students and campus professionals (professors, academic administrators and student affairs staff) believe that colleges should teach personal and social responsibility, but many doubt that such teaching is actually taking place. Those are the preliminary results of a survey released Thursday by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The survey was conducted at 23 institutions that participate in the Templeton Foundation supported project Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility. While those institutions might be expected to have a common interest in these issues, they are diverse in terms of geography, sector and mission, including two- and four-year institutions, public and private, professionally oriented and liberal arts focused.

Here are results that show the gap between what students and campus professionals think should be a focus and is actually a focus.

Personal Responsibility: What Should Be a Focus vs. What Is a Focus

  Students Who Believe Topic Should Be Major Focus Students Who Believe Topic Is Major Focus Professionals Who Believe Topic Should Be Major Focus Professionals Who Believe Topic Is Major Focus
Striving for excellence 65.2% 39.0% 74.7% 33.8%
Cultivating personal and academic integrity 71.4% 51.2% 87.6% 46.6%
Contributing to a larger community 56.0% 39.6% 73.1% 43.8%
Taking seriously the perspectives of others 58.2% 32.6% 76.2% 33.4%
Refining ethical and moral reasoning 52.8% 30.2% 71.8% 32.7%

While the percentages differed, students and professionals were generally in agreement on which items should be a focus and which are a focus. But on another set of questions, on whether students improve in college on certain dimensions, students generally gave themselves better grades than did campus professionals.

Percentage Believing Students Leave College With Stronger/Better...

  Students Campus Professionals
Work ethic 42.8% 28.2%
Understanding of academic integrity 48.2% 46.5%
Understanding of personal integrity 52.5% 42.0%
Awareness of the importance of contributing to the greater good 33.6% 42.7%
Capacity to learn from diverse others 53.3% 39.8%
Capacity for ethical and moral reasoning 47.9% 36.8%

The AAC&U report on the results notes that such surveys "are vital to examining the 'real' vs. the 'ideal view of campus environments," and expresses hope that the differences may prompt discussions at individual institutions.

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