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Seizing Discretion to Advance Full Participation

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For a field that depends heavily on its practitioners using their judgment to achieve goals, faculty members can be quite nonchalant about how they use their own, writes KerryAnn O’Meara. Anastasia_new/istock/getty images plus

When you google the word “discretion,” the first thing that appears is an image of a person with a finger over their lips encouraging secrecy. Discretion is framed as something we choose not to do, such as sharing a colleague’s mistakes with others.

But in my 2020 Association for the Study of Higher Education presidential speech, I encouraged us to think about discretion more actively — about how we as higher education faculty can leverage judgment and discretion to advance equity and full participation. After all, higher education is replete with what Deborah Ball calls “discretionary spaces,” or places where academics make decisions that profoundly affect the full participation of faculty, students and staff.

Whether we look at admissions, teaching and mentoring, promotion and tenure decisions, or peer review of scholarship, faculty judgment and discretion is pervasive. We rely on discretion to accomplish objectives effectively and equitably. In fact, for a field that depends so heavily on its practitioners applying judgment to achieve goals, we can be quite nonchalant […]

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