“In teaching ethics, I begin by saying to my students, ‘At some time in your career, you will be asked to do something wrong. How will you respond?’” says Belverd Needles, professor, School of Accountancy. “In answering that question, they reference the professional literature and standards, as well as others courses they’ve taken at DePaul. They bring in Kant and Plato, they open up about their own personal experiences in the workplace — they’re fully engaged.”
The commitment to make ethics “real” for students gained momentum in 2007 after the publication of VISION twenty12, with its call to “provide opportunities for all students to learn ethical systems and demonstrate ethical practice,” and the launch of the Ethics across the Curricula, an initiative carried out by the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics and designed to coordinate, encourage, and enable the teaching of ethics in every discipline and every school.
“Ethics across the Curricula is an attempt to address the misconception that the study of ethics is the domain of the professional ethicist,” says Scott Kelley, the Office of Mission and Values. “In every discipline, there’s an ethical component.”
“With all the ethical challenges — in business and the professions, in politics and public life, in the economy and consumerism — the interest in ethical behavior has never been higher,” says Laura Hartman, professor, Department of Management, and Vincent de Paul professor of business ethics. “The Ethics across the Curricula initiative is not only timely but right in line with our Vincentian values.”
Charley Wilcox, instructor, College of Computing and Digital Media, agrees:
“The first time I taught Ethics in Games and Cinema, I thought the students would hate it, but now we’re filling eight sections. For many, this course is the first time they consider the ethical subtext in entertainment. In thinking about video games, for example, this means asking provocative questions: ‘What’s the winning condition? Is the perpetrator of violence the hero? What’s the message buried in the means to the end?’ The more realistic the game, the more urgent these questions. Our students will be leaders in the industry tomorrow; teaching them to think about ethics now is really important.”
The first task of the Ethics across the Curricula committee, formed of faculty from across the University, was an extensive audit of the level of ethics education across all academic disciplines.
“If we are in the business of developing leaders for the 21st century, we need to think about principles of sustainability, social responsibility, and collaboration — for DePaul, these commitments run even deeper because of our Vincentian values,” says Marco Tavanti, associate professor, School of Public Service.
“What do those values mean across the curricula? In our audit we found a lot was being done in courses and programs, but we weren’t sharing knowledge and best teaching practices. So, to address the challenge of defining ethics with a common language, we developed the booklet, Ethics 101. And to spread best practices, we began to conduct faculty workshops.”
In five workshops, more than 200 faculty members have gained training in ethics and pedagogy.
“In my class, I’ve used exercises from the workshop to prompt the students to think about ethics from every angle,” says Kim Clark, assistant professor, College of Communication.
“Often, a person teaching ethics feels like the Lone Ranger — like you’re the only person doing it or the only person doing it right! The workshops are a great way to share ideas and cross-pollinate: goods ideas can move from one area to study to another and still work. Because ethics is in the spotlight, we’re rethinking how we teach documentary film production, stressing the importance of getting to the truth in a situation without imposing one’s own bias. In today’s films, the line between a ‘set up’ and the facts has blurred; we want to sharpen that up again.”
Within the College of Commerce, the work of the initiative has been ambitious: to work ethics into the curriculum of the MBA program. “Within an MBA program, every discipline is important, and we did not want to propose bumping any courses to add a separate ethics class,” says Patricia Werhane, Wicklander Professor of Business Ethics and Managing Director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. “Integration is the solution.”
Werhane and Hartman developed ethics modules for three core classes, Management 500, 502, and Management 555, integrating ethical content into the teaching of different areas of specialization, including organization behavior, human resources, and operations. Their latest achievement has been the inclusion of ethical considerations in the capstone course, MGT 500, an eight-week simulation of problem solving that covers multiple business functions. “This has been challenging, but so important and relevant to real-world performance,” says Werhane.
The Ethics in Curricula initiative has affected courses in the College of Computing and Digital Medias, the College of Communication, the School of Public Service, the School for New Learning, the School of Education, the College of Law, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I expect that the way we’ve addressed the need for ethics in education will become an exemplar for other universities,” says Werhane.