Accountable academics

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

As students at Brown, we have grown accustomed to having professors and peers illumine our lives with insight and understanding. From the classroom to the gym and from the Ratty to the Main Green, we have all grown intellectually through our interactions with other members of the Brown community.

Given the importance of this interaction, we expect professors to enrich our understanding with academic insight supported by unimpeachable scholarship. And we anticipate that our peers will be academically responsible as well.

Consequently, it’s troubling to learn that Martin Keller, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior, has been accused of suppressing the link between the antidepressant Paxil and suicidal tendencies among adolescents in a drug study. Moreover, the fact that Keller may have taken money from GlaxoSmithKline, Paxil’s maker, without disclosing the amount is problematic to the Brown community and to the country more generally.

While we do not pre-judge the allegations against Keller, we do believe that his actions directly affect the integrity of the University.

What we do and who we are as a university is predicated upon an implied social contract of intellectual trust and personal reliability. As students, we expect our professors to act with integrity just as our professors demand that of us.

And the obligations we owe to each other extend beyond Brown to the community at large.

It is a troubling reality for students to realize that the work of their professors, let alone their peers, may lack integrity. After all, we understandably want our academic experience at Brown to enrich us. So students reject the prospect of anything that might undermine that experience. And they demand the bona fides of the information shared in lectures, seminars and even day-to-day conversation.

Indeed, they recognize that the credibility of this information is the currency that underlies all the intellectual exchanges we make.

However, as we consider the broader implications of the Keller allegations, we do think it is important to remember that professors are accountable for the honesty of their intellectual work and discourse as well.

We suggest an edit to our academic code. The Academic Code as presented on the University’s Web site, states that in the case of “Misrepresentations of facts, significant omissions, or falsifications in any connection with the academic process … students are penalized accordingly.” This code should be applied to both professors and students. For insofar as the Brown community is fostered by a direct dialogue between students and faculty, a demand for academic integrity should be imposed on all members of the University.