by Rebecca Arrington
On Ethical Grounds
By Charlotte Crystal
are as ancient as the Bible and as modern as the 6 oclock
news. Life seemed simpler when Moses came down from Mount Sinai
with two stone tablets in his arms: Thou shalt not kill. Thou
shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. The concepts
the world has grown more complex since then, and its harder
now to tell right from wrong. Todays society grapples with
issues such as reconciling individual liberty with national security,
threats to individual privacy created by the proliferation of
information technology, and tensions between economic development
and environmental concerns. Ethical dilemmas also abound in the
medical field: Is euthanasia acceptable? Should parents be able
to select their childs gender? Should they be allowed to
clone a dying child?
in technology have extended our lives and improved their quality
in many ways, making things possible that werent possible
a century or even a decade ago. But technology has
not been an unalloyed blessing; it has brought with it breathtaking
new challenges in a broad array of human endeavors. And these
challenges force us to confront our values as individuals, as
members of a politically, socially, economically and religiously
diverse society, and as stewards holding the world in trust for
our childrens children.
what do we do?
recently created Institute for Practical Ethics is tackling this
question by promoting interdisciplinary collaboration in research
and seeking new ways to address issues of ethics and integrity
in the classroom. Founded two years ago with $700,000 in gifts
from the Richard D. Donchian Foundation of Greenwich, Conn., the
institute builds on a long tradition of ethics at the University.
behavior, discourse and reflection, grounded in a commitment to
honor and the Honor Code, have been at the very core of the Universitys
mission throughout its history, said U.Va. President
John T. Casteen III at the institutes founding.
origins of ethics at U.Va.
Jefferson founded the University with a strong commitment to ethics,
hoping to foster a sense of civic responsibility, professional
duty and personal honor. He believed that a solid grounding in
ethics was vital for individuals and for institutions: I
consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in
the government of man.
commitment was strengthened with the implementation of U.Va.s
honor code in 1842. Students initially came from schools with
established codes of honor, but the Universitys enrollment
gradually expanded and its student body grew more heterogeneous.
Expectations needed to be spelled out.
the years, according to Virginius Dabneys Mr. Jeffersons
University, violations of the honor code have included such offenses
as the failure to return library books, faking an illness to skip
class, signing the roll for an absent friend, writing bad checks,
cheating on tests, stealing, and lying about ones age in
the 21st century, cheating and plagiarism remain among the biggest
honor issues, as illustrated by the 2001 scandal surrounding physics
professor Lou Bloomfields filing of charges of Honor Code
violations against 158 students.
universities with honor codes may fall short of perfection, they
strive to nurture cultures of honor and tend to have fewer problems
than schools without them. With this in mind, thoughtful donors
over the years have strengthened U.Va.s commitment to honor
and integrity while enriching its intellectual life and raising
its international visibility in the field of ethics.
in 1966, Elis and Signe Olsson established the Olsson Center for
Applied Ethics at the Darden School. The family has made a number
of other contributions to the field of ethics over the years,
through endowments of chairs and other initiatives.
centers at U.Va., supported in part by private funding, include
the School of Medicines Center for Biomedical Ethics, which
was founded in 1988 and expanded the schools Program in
Biology and Society that was launched in 1970.
Institute for Environmental Negotiation was established in 1980
in affiliation with the School of Architectures Department
of Urban and Environmental Planning.
School of Laws Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy,
which is also affiliated with the School of Medicine, was created
in 1977; and the Law Schools Center for Environmental Studies
was established in 1999.
of biomedical ethics John D. Arras has recently introduced a new
undergraduate minor in bioethics for the Department of Philosophy.
significant initiatives include a $1 million grant from the Elis
Olsson Memorial Foundation in 1996 that was divided among Dardens
Olsson Center, the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering
and Applied Science to fund endowed chairs in ethics and support
strong financial support has fostered innovative research and
thought at the University, helping make it the home of more than
a dozen scholars and ethicists with distinguished international
reputations working in disciplines as varied as religious studies,
philosophy, law, medicine, business, engineering and international
relations. U.Va. now stands in the forefront of American institutions
of higher learning for the breadth and depth of its faculty expertise
three years ago, James F. Childress director of the Institute
for Practical Ethics and now the John Allen Hollingsworth Professor
of Ethics gathered a University-wide group of faculty members
who worked in the field of ethics to explore ways in which they
could collaborate. Their efforts led to the establishment of a
student internship program in practical ethics in the winter of
1999, which was funded by a $500,000 gift from the Donchian Foundation.
Not long afterward, in the fall of 2000, the Institute for Practical
Ethics was founded, again with significant support from the Donchian
the guidance of Childress and executive director Ruth Gaare Bernheim,
this new institute is building on U.Va.s wide-ranging expertise
as it pursues two main goals: infusing ethics into the undergraduate
curriculum and promoting interdisciplinary research by fostering
collaboration among faculty members. To accomplish these goals,
the institute has developed a multifaceted program and is rolling
out several new initiatives this fall.
number of new undergraduate courses will be offered this fall
and spring, examining the role ethics plays in areas such as public
and global health, genetics, war, justice, human rights and the
environment. (See related story on new common course, p. 5.)
the graduate level, professional-values seminars, co-taught by
two professors from different schools, will be conducted off-Grounds
in the professors homes. These interdisciplinary, literature-based
seminars will encourage graduate students to recognize and explore
ethical conflicts and engage in critical reflection about their
roles and responsibilities. Faculty members involved in this project
include law professors Walter Wadlington and George Cohen, and
Dardens R. Edward Freeman, co-director of the Olsson Center
for Applied Ethics.
institute is sponsoring a dozen summer internships, in the U.S.
and around the world, for undergraduates interested in pursuing
a question of practical ethics theory vs. reality
in depth. The internships provide about $2,000 in research support.
For example, Sarah McKim, a rising third-year student majoring
in foreign affairs with an interest in religious studies, won
a grant to travel to Berlin this summer to investigate the effectiveness
of the Nuremberg trials in restoring order and morality to Germany
after World War II. Other students have worked at federal agencies,
such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental
Protection Agency, and on projects in India and Africa. The institute
hopes to secure new funds to create an endowment to continue and
expand the number of internships in ethics to a total of 50 each
as the institute has fostered interdisciplinary cooperation within
the University, it has reached out to include other institutions.
An executive education program in ethics for the biotech industry
is in the works with the Johns Hopkins University Bioethics Institute
and the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics. Faculty
have worked with senior executives and employees at two top biotech
companies to identify the ethical issues they face on a daily
basis and to create case studies for the in-service training of
biotech managers. A national biotech association, BIO, plans to
make these ethics education modules and case studies available
to biotech companies throughout the country. This project
really captures the spirit of our institute, says Childress.
Its a great example of how practical ethics can bridge
academic reflection and real-world experiences. Using these cases
in our classes will help prepare students for the challenges they
face after graduation.
society grows ever more complex, U.Va. has an important role to
play in helping to solve the problems of the future by drawing
on the wisdom of the past. The Universitys talented scholars
are forging ahead with new research in the field of practical
ethics, and at the same time ensuring that students are along
for the ride. Together, they sift through the complex details
of contemporary life for the enduring principles that should guide
decisions large and small truth and justice, honor and
integrity, compassion and dignity, sustainability and respect
for the environment.