Ethics Across the Curriculum

Ethics Across the Curriculum is a philosophy of pedagogy. The program, instituted by Elaine Englehardt, professor of philosophy and distinguished professor in ethics, was created in 1993 in order to introduce ethics programming to students, faculty, the community and other academic institutions.

Ethics education has been an important educational perspective at UVU since 1986, when the Ethics and Values course was added to the curriculum. Every student graduating with a BA or BS degree is required to take this interdisciplinary humanities course. In 1987, then-UVCC received a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for $120,000 to promote this ethics course. The funds were used for faculty development, library acquisitions, community lecture series and scholarly development. In 1993, the college's commitment expanded into the $185,000 school-wide project Ethics Across the Curriculum, funded by FIPSE, a scholarly unit in the U.S. Department of Education. In 1996, the program was awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a community project entitled Teaching Critical Thinking in Ethics, K-12.

Programs that constitute Ethics Across the Curriculum at UVU include the Ethics and Values course and the Center for the Study of Ethics. 

Ethics and Values Required Course

The ethics program at UVU has been nationally recognized as one of the top programs in the country by both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Association for Community Colleges. One of the main components of the ethics program is the required Ethics and Values course. Five goals of national curricular reform were integrated into designing this course.

First, students are expected to obtain ethical literacy. Well-educated students should know the seminal works in ethics and understand the various approaches to moral dilemmas.

Second, interdisciplinarity is integral to student understanding. A new perspective on an ethical issue often unfolds with each discipline — philosophy, literature, religion and history — and sometimes these perspectives conflict. Philosophy helps us discern the complexities involved in moral ideas; religion reminds us that each ethical dilemma has inherent moral and value implications and conflicts; literature brings the dilemma to life with characters moving through right and wrong decisions and living with the consequences of their choices; history can help us compare the values of a different time and culture with our own and can help students understand that an unquestionable assumption today was seen quite differently at another time.

Third, the inclusion of a strong writing component helps students think about and articulate varying points of view.

Fourth, self-confrontation and classroom discussion are encouraged to help students be introspective and share their thoughts and scholarship with others. Active classroom discussions also help students learn from the reflections of others.

Fifth, critical thinking skills must be developed for students to understand the perspectives of scholars and writers, as such understanding will shape the analysis of and recommended responses to ethical dilemmas.

EAC Outcomes for Project

Faculty Outcomes

  • Integrate the subject of ethics into vocational, technical, nursing, business and liberal education courses.

  • Challenge students to understand basic principles of ethics, to think and write critically, and to confront inconsistencies in their own ethics and values systems.

  • Establish a faculty renewal program through the shared study of ethics to re-energize as scholars as well as teachers.

Student Outcomes

  • Recognize ethical issues.

  • Develop critical thinking and self-confrontation skills.

  • Cultivate tolerance toward disagreement and the inevitable ambiguities in dealing with ethical problems.

  • Elicit a sense of moral obligation and develop a personal code of ethics.

Teaching Critical Thinking About Ethics, K-12

UVU began teaching ethics to K-12 teachers in 1996 with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Superintendents from Provo, Alpine and Nebo school districts select teachers to participate in the program. Three UVU faculty members mentor these teachers and school districts in the implementation of ethics into their curricula. Project activities focus on teaching ethics and philosophy to children.

Activities include the following:

  • A five-day summer seminar on foundational ethics.

  • Monthly meetings with all participating teachers for twelve months. Scholars meet with participating teachers during these monthly meetings to discuss curriculum development and to clarify difficult philosophical concepts.

  • The development of an oversight committee with UVU, parents and participating area school districts. This committee will help guide the school districts in implementing the ethics curriculum.

The project goals for the teachers include the following:

  • Develop greater understanding of works of enduring value in ethics and humanities.

  • Foster critical thinking and self-confrontation skills.

  • Integrate ethics into K-12 curricula.

  • Challenge students to understand basic principles of ethics, to think and write clearly about their views, and to confront inconsistencies in their own ethics systems.

It is important that teachers provide a complete education to students, particularly within the humanities. Teaching ethics not only expands sensitivity of children and youth to moral concerns, but it can also help them examine the nature of their ethical assumptions, understand inconsistencies in their value framework, more carefully examine appropriate facts, develop decision-making strategies for resolving moral dilemmas, and realize that moral values are not merely privately held subjective opinions. Without an intellectual introduction to ethics, students may see the discussion of moral choices as an informal discussion.

Faculty Study

Faculty are paid a stipend for participation in the summer seminars. Books and other materials are also provided. Faculty are our best resources. Faculty development and study are invaluable. After the monies from federal agencies have expired, the UVU administration supports the continuation of the program.

Summer seminar discussions include works in ethics that are foundational, professional and social. Foundational works include writings on duties (Kant and divine command), utility (Mill and Bentham), rights (Hobbes, Locke and works in liberalism and communitarianism), virtue (Plato and Aristotle), and relationships and feminism (Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings, Susan Sherwin and Rosemary Tong).

Professional works include discussions on specific professional codes of ethics and issues such as confidentiality, lying, informed consent and privacy.

Social issues include works on human rights, abortion, homosexuality, the environment, hunger, welfare, euthanasia, legalization of drugs and overpopulation.

Scholars that have been invited to UVU for the summer seminar series include Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgens, University of Texas; Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago; James Sterba and Janet Kourany, Notre Dame University; Peter Dean, Pennsylvania State University; Robin Winks, Yale University; Eden Naby, Harvard University; John Woodcock, Indiana University; Frederick Gregory, University of Florida; Terry Perlin, Miami University, Ohio; Leslie Francis, University of Utah; Eric Jeungst, Case Western Reserve University; Neil Brady, Brigham Young University; and Deni Elliott, University of Montana.

Monthly scholars have included Donald Schmeltekopf, Provost of Baylor University; Robert Lowry, Case Western Reserve University; Randy Kester, J.D.; Charles Wilkinson, University of Colorado at Boulder; Del Wasden, BYU; and Robert Romney, M.D.

Assessment: Critical Incident Technique

Faculty assessment for the program includes the use of two national tests given to faculty participants: the Defining Issues Test and the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency Critical Thinking Test. Tests were given before and after the three-year grant.

Student assessment for the program includes the use of the Critical Incident Technique (CIT). Using the CIT, a participant is to locate and recognize specific actual behaviors and evaluate them as ethical dilemmas. Participants select incidents from a movie, television show or video. The participant analyzes the incident and its solution or lack thereof. The participant is also encouraged to propose different or additional solutions to the dilemma(s) portrayed. To complete the assignment, participants are to submit a video copy of the incident; a two-page description of the circumstances in which the incident occurred; the outcome or result of the incident; and an analysis of the ethical relevance of the incident. The assignment can be completed individually or with an assigned study group.

Excerpt From A Student Group Analysis

— Rebecca, Ben, David, Jane and Sarah

In the movie "A Few Good Men," Jack Nicholson is a military officer who has covered up a murder. When he is in court on the witness stand, Nicholson yells, "You want to know the truth? You want to know the truth? Well, you can't handle the truth." Nicholson's testimony is that some military crimes must be covert for national security purposes. He implies that it is acceptable to murder one cadet who isn't going along with the rest of the company. He states it is acceptable for him to lie about the incident under oath to protect the company involved as well as the military overall.

We believe this is an ethical dilemma for three reasons: 1. A murder has been committed. It is not acceptable to take a human life merely because this individual doesn't get along with the rest of the company. 2. The investigation of the murder is hindered. It is not acceptable to lie about the cause of death in an effort to preserve public relations or personal esteem. 3. Cadets and officers lie under oath in court. It is unacceptable to lie in court. The military has determined that it is essential this case be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. A sub-group in the military can't make its own rules of military morality.

In analyzing this critical incident, we stipulate first that the murder was wrong. The murder was immoral in every sense and those causing the murder should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We further stipulate that it is unacceptable for a cover-up of the murder. Jack Nicholson defends the practice of lying under an area of lying covered by Plato.

Plato gave support for some lies when he said: "It is the business of the rulers of the city, if it is anybody's, to tell lies, deceiving both its enemies and its own citizens for the benefit of the city; and no one else must touch this privilege."(1)

If using the Plato type justification for the cover-up, Nicholson and those around him have a deluded sense of their place in national security. Their actions are not for the preservation of military. Their actions and lies are for preservation of their own positions.

Kant declares: "A lie is a lie ... whether it be told with good or bad intent. ... But if a lie does no harm to anyone and no one's interests are affected by it, is it a lie? Certainly."(2) Kant believes truthfulness is an "unconditional duty which holds in all circumstances."(3) According to the categorical imperative, if there is even one case in which it is acceptable to lie and honesty can be overridden, then the perfect status of the duty not to lie is compromised. Kant is most strident in not allowing for even a seemingly innocent lie that could save a life instead of causing harm. He merely asserts that if something terrible happens it is not your fault. The terrible act is something wholly unjustified in the first place.(4)

Duty is often represented by Kant and his deontological views on lying. Kant tells us that it is never acceptable to lie, and places this on the level of a moral law, or a "categorical imperative." He contends that lies always harm others — the individual or society. "To be truthful (honest) in all declarations, therefore, is a sacred and absolutely commanding decree of reason, limited by no expediency."(5)

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham also would not allow for the Nicholson defense of the cover-up. Bentham delivered a frothy lecture to England's judges who were using their power and lying to the people. Bentham sees nothing more abhorrent than using lies and power to further one's position.(6)

Our group finds this incident to be an example of a series of unethical behaviors. The justification for the behaviors is weak, with hundreds of years of morality, ethics, and laws written in opposition to Nicholson's rationale.

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1. K.R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 138.
2. Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics, (tr.), L. Infield, (New York: Harper Row, 1930, 1963), p. 228.
3. Immanuel Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie from Benevolent Motives," in Lewis White Beck, (ed.), The Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), pp. 92-96.
4. Ibid.
5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, (ed.), and (tr.), Lewis White Beck, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), p. 348.
6. Jeremy Bentham, "Pension for Justice," in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, (ed.), Sir J. Bowring, 1838-43, p. 205, 206.