Emerging themes on engagement

by Alasdair Roberts and Mary-Lee Rhodes, PreCISE co-chairs

PreCISE recently hosted two conversations about international engagement — one at the ASPA conference in Jacksonville on March 19, and a webinar on March 30.  In both conversations, we asked participants to think about some hypothetical scenarios that raised questions about engagement, human rights, and academic freedom.

Participants discuss scenarios during March 19 session at ASPA conference

PreCISE will hold more conversations over the rest of 2022, as we prepare a report to be released in January 2023.  We’ve already observed several important themes emerging from our conversations on March 19 and March 30:

Be clear about values.  Often, academic organizations find themselves reacting unexpectedly to controversies in which core values seem to be at risk.  Addressing these controversies is easier if academic organizations have articulated core values and principles well before a controversy arises.

Get the facts.  Controversies arise when individuals raise concerns about situations that seem to threaten human rights and academic freedom.  There may be an impulse to react quickly to such concerns.  It’s important to take time to check the facts.

Inclusive decision-making.  Because decision-making often involves reacting to an unexpected controversy, it runs the risk of being done quickly and informally.  It’s important to think carefully about who ought to be involved in decisions and ensure that different perspectives are adequately represented.

Opportunities for dialogue and principled engagement.  Controversies provide an opportunity to open a dialogue about core values and to build principled connections with scholars in other countries.  It’s important to think carefully about the ways in which engagement may provide opportunities for such dialogue.  This requires good knowledge of context: Are potential partners interested in and/or aligned with the core values of the organization?  Are there opportunities for change within the system?

Transparency in decisions.  Difficult decisions involving strongly held views and controversy may be necessary in situations relating to human rights and academic freedom.  To facilitate deliberative and inclusive decision making and to communicate effectively, it’s important to be transparent about how a decision was reached, and the reasons for those decisions.

These March sessions were the first of many.  We welcome feedback. Leave a comment here or email us: Alasdair Roberts and Mary-Lee Rhodes.

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