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>  News Releases >   2003 >   May

Ethics education promotes 'civil dialogue'

Posted 05/17/03, by Tamara Steinert


Aine Donovan
(photo by Joe Mehling '69)
Faculty members join seminar at Ethics Institute

This winter and spring, an interdisciplinary group of faculty members has been gathering to discuss one of the trickiest problems in the academy: how to include ethical reflection in the classroom. The seminar, titled Ethics Across the Curriculum (EATC) and sponsored by the Dartmouth Ethics Institute, is intended to better equip faculty members to guide discussions and develop pedagogical strategies on ethics, according to Aine Donovan, Executive Director of the institute.

An underlying principle of the seminar is the understanding that there are implicit ethical issues in every discipline.

"For example, it's impossible to teach an engineering course without discussing the role of public safety or an anthropology class without discussing the rights of indigenous people," says Donovan. "These are simple examples, but the opportunities for students to expand their critical reasoning skills throughout the course of a day are extraordinary."

Many faculty members are already trying to address ethics, and others may wish to do so but may be unsure how to proceed, she said. One concern some people have is that students will be "force-fed" a particular set of beliefs.

"Understood properly, ethics education is at the far end of the spectrum from indoctrination. The critical feature of ethics education is civil dialogue - an ability to tackle the thorniest issues of the day with a developed understanding of logic and morality. We provide the ethical toolbox, but our students construct their own individual responses to the difficult demands of work, home and school," Donovan said.

"Dartmouth has a long tradition of providing a liberal education that is steeped in civic values of integrity, honor and personal responsibility."

-Aine Donovan

Faculty members from engineering, government, religion, philosophy and English are part of the first EATC seminar. During the summer term, each group member will work on completing a syllabus that integrates ethical concerns, then reconvene in the fall to discuss the process. A major focus of the seminar has been finding the most effective ways for approaching ethics in various fields of study.

"Teaching formal principles of ethical reasoning isn't appropriate in every discipline," says James B. Murphy, Professor of Government and a member of the EATC seminar. As alternatives, the group has talked about the effective use of case studies, moral exemplars and narratives among other methods for approaching ethical questions.

"The value of this approach is it overcomes the 'ghettoization' of ethics as a separate field of inquiry. It's an attempt to think of ethics as a central component to all disciplines," says Murphy, who is creating a new course that examines ethical dimensions of economic life.

While Donovan said recent corporate and academic scandals have put ethics in the spotlight, the EATC seminar doesn't represent a new direction for the College.

"Dartmouth has a long tradition of providing a liberal education that is steeped in civic values of integrity, honor and personal responsibility. Our goal is to keep that tradition strong and central to the mission of Dartmouth College," she said.

The Ethics Institute will sponsor another Ethics Across the Curriculum seminar in the fall. The application deadline for interested faculty members is Sept. 29.

-Tamara Steinert

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