A couple of years ago, I was listening to a presentation about a new and apparently sophisticated anti-plagiarism tool. Throughout the talk, the speaker boasted of her software’s potential for detecting copied work and preserving “academic integrity”.
I was a little despondent about the notion that, henceforth, the value of academic integrity would be secured through computer software. Nor did I feel reassured when, towards the end of the presentation, we were told that “academic judgement” was still necessary to determine whether plagiarism had taken place. To me, the notion that academic judgement had become an adjunct to plagiarism detection software was even more disturbing than the association of this product with the upholding of academic security.
Since then, I have become conscious of a growing tendency to marginalise the role and devalue the status of academic judgement. Increasingly, the term “academic judgement” is used defensively in response to a complaint about a particular decision. In official documents, the term refers to decisions that cannot and should not be challenged by students.
Numerous university appeals procedures contain the statement “Appeals are not permitted against the academic judgement of the examiners” or something similar. Because in its current usage academic judgement is invariably used to protect lecturers and their institutions from complaints, it can come across as a mere administrative convenience.
Yet academic judgement lies at the heart of university life. Academics are continually in the business of making judgement calls.
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