Skip to content ↓

Academic Responsibility Outlined

A faculty committee that studied academic responsibility has urged the faculty to "develop an enhanced level of awareness of ethical issues that confront scholars at all levels of experience" and to "provide for a more explicit and systematic discussion of these issues with their students.

"We found that principles of ethical research conduct are not often explicitly discussed during the early phases of education of young scholars," the committee said in its report. "Rather individuals are left to develop their own personalized code of behavior, based in part on personal valus and in part through specific examples set by their mentors."

"All of us need to have a clear appreciation of the basic values of science and we must articulate these values clearly to our students," the report added.

To enhance the education of the next generation of scientists and scholars for their professional responsibilities, and to insure that research done on the MIT campus "meets the highest standards of integrity," the committee urged that each department form working groups and that MIT establish a series of workshops on research conduct.

The recommendation was one of several made by the Committee on Academic Responsibility, which was formed to review community values in connection with the conduct of academic research. This took place in the wake of situations at MIT and elsewhere where academic integrity had become the focus of inquiries by Congressional committees and federal agencies.

On this subject, the MIT committee, chaired by Professor and Associate Provost Sheila E. Widnall, commented that the scientific community "has expressed concern about the vagueness and the inconsistencies between agencies in the definition of scientific misconduct as well as concerns about the failures of due process and confidentiality on the part of federal agencies."

In the former regard, the committee said it was important "to define clearly various categories of departures from accepted values in scientific research in order to enable the Institute to respond appropriately to allegations of such behavior."

For a unified definition that incorporates the language of MIT with that of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, two major sponsors of university research, the committee recommended that MIT define research misconduct "as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism in proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.

"A dialogue is ongoing that it is hoped will resolve some of these issues enabling universities and the federal agencies to fulfill their responsibilities while protecting the rights and reputations of the individuals involved and insuring the productivity and creativity of the scientific enterprise," the committee said.

"We endorse MIT's efforts to join with other universities, professional societies and individual members of the scientific community in working cooperatively with federal agencies to improve procedures for the the federal response to allegations of scientific misconduct," it added.

The committee also called for "a period of stability in federal regulations" to give universities and the scientific community an opportunity to gain experience with these procedures.

The committee proposed specific procedures for investigating allegations of research misconduct at MIT.

It said these should be vested in heads of departments and interdepartmental laboratories or comparable administrative units. This could normally be done, the committee said, by setting up a fact-finding panel whose report would provide the basis on which the department or laboratory head decides what further steps are appropriate. This could include a recommendation to the provost that a formal investigation is warranted.

The drafting of policies and procedures to be followed in investigations would be the responsibility of a specially designated person, or persons, in the Office of the Provost who would be available to consult with investigation committes and who would act to insure institutional memory, the committee said.

It added that MIT should "insure a supportive environment for individuals who come forward with concerns about research conduct: and make specific provisions "to insure the protection of complainants who act in good faith."

Professor Widnall, the committee chair, has responsibilities in several areas as associate provost, including academic integrity and federal relations. She has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Panel on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Research. She is past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Other members of the committee were Richard C. Mulligan, professor of molecular biology; Jerome I. Friedman, Institute Professor and professor of physics; Morris Halle, Institute Professor and professor of linguistics; and Gerald N. Wogan, Underwood-Prescott Professor of Toxicology and director of the Division of Toxicology. The committee staff member was Charlene Placido, assistant to the vice president for research.

A version of this article appeared in the April 15, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 27).

Related Topics

More MIT News