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Why EthIC?

Carleton has never been a place solely focused on the acquisition of facts, the accumulation of raw knowledge. Carleton has always been about the development of critical thinking, the equipping of students to enter an increasingly complex world with the tools needed not just to succeed but to contribute to the common good. Now more than ever, we are aware of the deep interconnection of all the facets of life at Carleton. Classroom learning and student activities, campus-wide conversations and dorm floor interactions, experiences of community whether nurturing or fragmenting, all contribute to the growth and development of students during their time at Carleton. Together we must continue to find new ways to integrate all the different aspects of the educational experience of students from the classroom to the dorm, the frisbee field to the discussion group.

Furthermore, the need for deeper ethical reflection within society at large has never been more obvious. From corporate scandals to the moral values debate, from the prisoner abuse scandal to the continuing racial and class divides, our contemporary climate calls for leaders who can integrate their knowledge and commitments with work and community life.

Ethical reflection is one such opportunity for deep integration. Carleton students are yearning to develop and reflect on their values. In her commencement address last summer, class of 2004 student Katie Jumbe illustrated this passion: “Here it is our first job to think about values, to question them, and to grow from those questions.” To use the language of recent institutional research, Carleton students both as they arrive and as they graduate rate “Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” as their most important value, well above “Becoming an authority in my chosen field,” “Being very well off financially,” and “Influencing national political structures, operations, or decisions/outcomes.” Carleton students rated this consistently higher than other students nationally, pointing both the uniqueness of this place and the tremendous opportunity a program in ethical reflection can provide at this time in the life of Carleton. Although there are ethics programs springing up on campuses around the country, Carleton is uniquely equipped to develop and capitalize on such a program.

EthIC is beginning its fifth year. In this modest pilot phase, EthIC has sought “to support and encourage discussions of ethical issues within Carleton classrooms and throughout the larger Carleton community.” While ethical reflection in the classroom has long been a part of Carleton, this is the first effort to strengthen, support and encourage that work while looking also much more broadly at additional opportunities for ethical reflection in the life of the whole community. As we move into the future, ethical reflection can provide some of the very best tools and opportunities to integrate the classroom with the rest of student development and life.

Ethics touches every field, providing a way into the classroom from daily life and helping to lead the classroom out into the world. An ongoing program in ethical reflection could provide the key nexus for the integration of learning, development and identity formation. A larger program in ethics at Carleton could not only build on PERC’s modest support for faculty interested in further development of ethical teaching components in the classroom and student reflection on all sorts of daily life and world issues, but could be deeply integrated with many other programs at Carleton including ACT, the Pearlman LTC, the Career Center, and Off-Campus Studies. Such a program can be one more critical tool in helping Carleton students grow and develop during their time here and enter the world with the tools they need to lead integrated, whole lives that make a difference in our global community.