Currently, the relation and contract between the university and society is a central question both in general discourse and in the literature on higher education. Still, there is so far little empirical research on how academics themselves understand and approach their responsibility toward the public. This thesis explores the question of university academics responsibility toward the public from the viewpoint of academics themselves, and thus provides insight into how this responsibility is understood and taken by the central actors of the university. The study is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with university academics from the disciplines of psychology, history, biology and sociology at the University of Oslo. This thesis underscores that the taking of responsibility is discipline-specific in terms of what the responsibility is for, in terms of specific publics, and in terms of specific epistemic aspects. Still, central findings emerge across disciplines: This study shows how responsibility toward the public is experienced and imagined as integral to academic work, and illustrates how responsibility is taken in terms of research, teaching, and communication to and with the public. Participants understand responsibility to be taken in a variety of related ways, and experience taking and demarcating responsibility to involve balancing different and sometimes conflicting considerations. This balancing is not performed once and for all, but is rather something the participants engage in in the concrete instances of taking responsibility. Meanwhile, drawing the boundaries of responsibility, and balancing the different concerns, and thereby taking responsibility, tends to be experienced as challenging. Dealing with these challenges is experienced as being left to the individual to handle due to an experienced lack of institutionalized discussion. However, findings from the present study suggest that the taking of responsibility requires strong communities, where the members are given time and space to engage in responsibility discussions within the community. Discrepancies between experiences and imaginaries of taking responsibility come to the fore, which illuminate how features of the current conditions are experienced to pose restraints rather than support the taking of responsibility toward the public. This study may contribute to future institutional discourses and arrangements that better support the complex responsibility toward the public that the participants in the present study envision.
The study is performed at the Department of Education, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Oslo