New Center for Ethics will enable students to tackle difficult topics

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Donald Hall, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has wanted to create a Center for Ethics since he arrived to campus seven years ago. In his final semester at Lehigh, his goal has come to fruition.

The newly established Center for Ethics launched this spring and is housed in the CAS. On March 27, it invited Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and 2016 presidential candidate, to deliver the Inaugural Peter S. Hagerman ’16 lecture in ethics.

“I think (ethics) is the timeliest topic we have in the world right now,” Hall said.

He said ethics encompasses almost every discipline imaginable, ranging from the sciences to the media.

Professor Robin Dillon, the inaugural director of the center, said Hall was instrumental in securing funding for the center and making its creation possible.

Hall said the center is funded by the class of 1961 and CAS. The class of 1961 decided to sponsor a speaker series on ethics and received a large estate from Peter Hagerman, ’61, who passed in 2016.

Dillon said she has been working toward a center for ethics for years, so she is thrilled to see the center emerge.

She said the mission of the center is three-fold, with educational, research and public-facing dimensions. It aims to become a leader in public education on ethical issues.

The center’s steering committee includes 10 members, most of whom are professors from different arts disciplines.

Steering committee member Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion & Africana studies, said she is excited to see what will be possible under Dillon’s leadership. Miller said the center is an incredible clearing house for the university.

“It’s important and refreshing to have a space where we can challenge assumptions,” Miller said.

The center already has a full program of lectures and discussions scheduled for this semester, focused on sexual harassment in the work place. Dillon said this topic seemed especially relevant with the #MeToo movement trending in the media.

“The truth is there’s a lot that needs to be done because there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, and it’s the role of the university” Dillon said.

Although it is housed in CAS, the Center for Ethics is a university center, which means it will serve the entire university population by joining individuals from across the campus community.

Dillon said her team is in the process of bringing members of the other three colleges on board for the interdisciplinary center.

Dillon hopes that in the future ethics will become a minor for undergraduates or a certificate program for graduate students. She said there will be time for further planning during the next academic year.

Hall and Dillon also hope to get the center involved in the local Bethlehem community, which Hall thinks would be eager for workshops and discussions. Both said they want to look into engaging with the local business community as well.

The philosophy department hosts the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium, a day-long event in which students present research projects examining ethics in their respective interests. Hall said although there hasn’t been much student involvement in the center yet, this symposium will provide a student base.

Dillon said the committee wants to involve students as soon as possible, both educationally and directly in the center’s work. She hopes to increase the number and reach of ethics courses available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Depending on how they define ethics, Miller said people will view the center differently. The center is an educational service and a place where conversations on difficult topics will occur.

Dillon said she wants students to develop the intellectual tools necessary to address perennial questions and pressing ethical challenges.

“I want to make sure every student leaves Lehigh with a knowledge of ethical decision making,” Hall said.

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7 Comments

  1. Robert Davenport on

    “I want to make sure every student leaves Lehigh with a knowledge of ethical decision making,” Hall said.

    I would rather hear that Lehigh graduates are capable if not adept at making ethical decisions. Knowing is not doing.

    • Some people, whether by their nature or thanks to good parenting and role models, are adept at making ethical decisions, but others need it modeled for them. Knowing is the first step in doing.

  2. Amy Charles '89 on

    Okay wait.

    The school that charges 67 thousand smackeroos a year for an unremarkable BA, is gentrifying South Bethlehem, can’t figure out how to disentangle itself from Donald Trump, has an ant trail of frat bros trucking from campus to the booking office, and was the inspiration for the Clery Act is going to have an Ethics Center for — ahem — teaching ethics.

    You know that thing where the creepy guys always make a big point of telling you how nice they are?

    • More criticism from Amy. Let’s for a moment suppose your opinions about Lehigh are true. For the purpose of this exercise, I will concede to you each of the points you identify above as unethical behavior occurring at Lehigh. Do you not think that prioritizing ethics at the institutional level and teaching students to confront and navigate ethical dilemmas is a valuable step towards addressing the systemic issues you cite? To my dismay, and I know to your dismay as well, we’ve seen that the Board of Trustees failed to assert any sort of commitment to ethics at the highest institutional levels. So we look ahead to what else we can do as a University. I actually think there is no better time than the present for someone to stand up and prioritize ethical teaching if we want Lehigh to do better. There’s a lot Lehigh can do, but I don’t see this as an empty gesture or a pointless exercise.

      I don’t know you except from your postings on The Brown and White, and maybe I’m wrong, but my reading between the lines is that you don’t post out of disdain for Lehigh but you post as a means of challenging Lehigh to do better.

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        It’s a hopeful view you’ve got there. My experience, unfortunately, is that the people most interested in attaching institutional labels with the word “ethics” to themselves are the ones who have something to cover with that label. People who behave ethically as a matter of course have other things to do with their time and energy.

        Again, man, Lehigh’s really missing the boat here with theatre. They could just do a production of Tartuffe. They’d save millions.

        If Lehigh became a better place because of my postings, I’d be pleased and also shocked right out of my chair. Also satisfactory, from my pov, would be Farrell’s deciding I’m such a pain in the ass that it’s worth inventing a mechanism so you can hand your degree back to Lehigh, self-rescind, when you’ve had enough of the grodiness of the association. I mean either way.

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        Please feel free, btw, to refute:

        1. The fact of Lehigh’s ginormous COA
        2. Lehigh’s planned gentrification of So Beth to make way for a whole lot more mostly upper-middle-class kids
        3. Lehigh’s continued warm embrace of The Donald
        4. Lehigh’s perennial problems with bad frat bro behavior (is there a single year without it? Ever?)
        5. That the Clerys’ fight for legislation was to prevent the recurrence, at any school, of Lehigh’s behavior after their daughter was murdered there? Namely, no lying to the family about what happened, and no hiding violent campus crimes from the campus community, including staff and students?

        I mean if Lehigh wants to get better at behaving ethically, it strikes me it doesn’t need an institute to get there. It could start by having a board of trustees not run by someone specializing in vulture capital. It could take a look at its COA and say “we’re doing something terribly wrong, let’s fix that.” It could stare at the aged frat bros who arrive with the special pleading and say “sorry” and shut them down. It could have a Title IX office that returns Callisto’s emails. Not being awful does not require special study if in fact you’re not a greedy person with a fantastic sense of entitlement.

        If Lehigh really wants an Ethics Center, presumably one where people are seriously rather than selfprotectively interested in ethics and aren’t going to kick things off by inviting a rich lady who damaged the lives of tens of thousands of families because she wouldn’t admit she wasn’t competent to do a CEO job, then perhaps it could get good at ethics *first*, and then decide it might be competent to do some scholarship and teaching.

        • @amy Charles, Very curious reading your endless comments. What exactly is your relationship with Lehigh? Are you an alum? Current or past Lehigh educator?

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