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Updated 3:00 PM October 12, 2005




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  Presidential Initiative
Task force recommends integration of ethics and education

The large number of ethical lapses and institutional failures that have made news headlines in recent years point to an erosion in ethical standards that threatens to undermine public trust in society's institutions, say members of a U-M task force.
President Mary Sue Coleman (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

These include insider stock trading and corporate corruption, mistreatment of war prisoners, sexual abuse by clergy and corrupt actions on the part of government officials. Also on the list are problems that hit closer to home—increased reports of cheating by students, fabrication of scientific evidence and violations of fair play in athletics.

In its final report, the Presidential Task Force on Ethics in Public Life says the University should respond to these concerns about unethical behavior by strengthening and publicizing existing campus efforts to bring such issues to the forefront, and by developing new opportunities for education and discourse concerning ethics in public life.

"The task force studying ethics in public life has found that the University can and should do more to make ethics a priority in our teaching, research and public service. In fact, our community is hungry for more discussion and debate about what is right, what is wrong, and the foundations of strong moral behavior," President Mary Sue Coleman said in her address to the University Senate Sept. 26, during which she announced that $500,000 would be directed to expanding ethics in education. In addition, the University will launch a series of public forums to address ethical issues, beginning in November.

The task force, formed as one of four presidential initiatives announced by Coleman last year, examined the University's current efforts at teaching ethics and found that some units have courses or parts of courses dedicated to the issues, but that not all students had opportunities to be exposed to such debate.

"Overall we found that many students (and some faculty) viewed ethics as being avoided or, at least, not part of the culture of learning in some units, and the availability of opportunities for ethics education, reflection and dialogue quite uneven," the report states. "The University needs to create a culture in which ethics is prominent."

The report examined the historical involvement of education in such issues and found that where once great attention was given to piety and morality, universities in general have abdicated that responsibility, for the most part.

"Modern universities have moved away from discourse on ethical issues as they have become increasingly secularized and specialized, so we have identified a need for greater attention to these issues in teaching and research," says Marvin Krislov, vice president and general counsel and co-chair of the task force.

"We have to find a balance between the role of education in addressing ethics and understanding that there are multiple perspectives on these issues. We must be careful not to take a particular viewpoint but to engage students in these discussions."

During the next year, U-M will increase opportunities for undergraduates, particularly those in the first and second years, to enroll in courses that address ethics in public life. Those leading the initiative also will endeavor to make students, staff, faculty and members of the broader community aware of the rich array of events and activities that already exist or will be developed in the coming years.

Other recommendations for undergraduate education include:

• Expanding opportunities for first-year students to participate in discussions of ethics and public life through living-learning communities and first-year seminars;

• Encouraging faculty to be more explicit about the ways in which their courses address ethics and to integrate ethical issues into existing courses;

• Supporting the development of courses that may not naturally arise from existing academic units (e.g., courses on religion and public life or courses on ethics in the professions);

• Encouraging and supporting new and existing programs that provide opportunities for students to become involved in community engagement (e.g., through participation in the programs of the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning);

• Collaborating with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching to develop faculty/graduate student instructor (GSI) workshops on incorporating an ethics component in undergraduate courses;

• Providing incentives for faculty to engage in collaborative teaching related to ethics that crosses unit boundaries.

Task Force Co-chair John Chamberlin, professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School, and professor of political science, LSA, says one of the goals for this year will be to identify further existing courses and programs that address issues of ethics in public life. "We also want to develop some new models and some ways to modify existing courses that will provide new opportunities," Chamberlin says of the first steps, adding he hopes to see some of the courses available beginning in fall 2006.

"We're asking the deans to help us identify faculty who already teach in these areas or who have an interest in these areas. We need to identify faculty and GSIs willing to try some new things."

Other initiatives recommended by the task force include collaboration with student groups to offer informal discussions about issues; development of an annual symposium or conference on ethics that would be open to the public; and support for community-based initiatives in ethics-related fields.

The full task force report can be viewed at: Those who wish to comment on the report or become involved with the initiative are encouraged to send an e-mail to

Other members of the task force include: Stanley Berent, professor of psychology and psychiatry, Medical School, and professor of psychology, LSA; Bunyan Bryant, professor of urban planning, School of Natural Resources and Environment; Anthony Collings, lecturer IV in communication studies, LSA; Gary D. Fenstermacher, professor, School of Education; Timothy Fort, associate professor, Stephen M. Ross School of Business; Thomas Fricke, senior research scientist, Survey Research Center and Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, and professor of anthropology, LSA; Allan Gibbard, Richard B. Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, LSA; Susan Goold, associate professor of internal medicine, Medical School; Siri Jayaratne, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs and professor of social work, School of Social Work; Sharon Kardia, associate professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health; Ann Lin, associate professor of political science, LSA, and associate professor of public policy, Ford School of Public Policy; William Martin, Donald R. Shepherd Director of Intercollegiate Athletics; Jason Mironov, past president, Michigan Student Assembly, and student of undergraduate business administration; Marianne Ryan, doctoral student, School of Information; Jason Weinstein, student, Law School; and Wendy Lockwood Banka, graduate student, Ford School, and staff member.

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