Truth and reconciliation in academic units? (A response to shortcomings in evidence-based development of practice and commitment to social justice)

The core values of my college begin with 1. evidence-based development of practice and 2.  commitment to social justice.  In many academic units, not only my college, equivalent values are spoken about, if not stated explicitly.  What follows logically, if not in actual practice, from these values or principles?

#1 & 2 => no decisions are based on expediency, for example, “It’s too hard to assemble the evidence or get it paid attention to by those with decision-making power.”  Expediency not only contradicts #1, but, by allowing those with power (or special access to those with power) to circumvent established procedures and transparency of process, undermines social justice in the present and confidence in social justice in the future.  Everything is politicized in the sense of jockeying and special access.

If decisions have been made on the basis of expediency—without evaluation and attention to evidence—and if people in the unit now lack confidence in established procedures providing checks and balances as well as access to all, the question arises: How to recover?  A: Truth and reconciliation.  Together the terms connote a commitment to future social justice even though past hurts cannot be undone.  Reconciliation requires truth, in other words, attention to evidence and transparency about that.  Reconciliation assumes there are hurts and antagonisms resulting from that, and requires that these not be brushed aside in the name of expediency.  (Another way of saying this is that people often make an issue a matter of personalities when the root problem is that established procedures have been forgotten or otherwise circumvented.   Noting this does not neutralize the personal hurts and feelings, but points to a path ahead, away from emotionally charged blocks.)

Expediency is practiced not only by people with decision-making power.  Others judge that the effort to uphold the principles of evidence-based practice and social justice is too great.  It is said: “Let’s look forward, not revisit the past” and “You won’t get people’s [especially, decision-makers] co-operation by attacking them.”  This second line personalizes the issues, suggesting that those who would uphold the principles are the problem—they lack tact, civility, personableness, or political savvy.  Both lines can be responded to with a question: Where is the evidence that practices not evaluated get left behind by people accustomed to those practices?  If they don’t get left behind, the practices will continue to shape the future. Truth and reconciliation is then a means of looking forward.  I suspect that it’s a prerequisite for the core values to be really expressed in the practices of an academic unit.


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