Ethical Issues for the Pedagogy of Civic Engagement

Voluntary Participation (of community participants)

  • Who has requested/sanctioned projects?
  • Who has been consulted?
  • Who has not been consulted?
  • Who has been coerced?
  • Who can withdraw?
  • Responsibilities with vulnerable populations/those diminished autonomy/capacity?

Informed Consent

  • What information do the community participants and students have?
  • What is the faculty responsibility to ensure that all participants know the time-line, purpose, procedures of the project?

No Harm to Participants

  • What constitutes harm in service-learning and civic engagement projects?
  • Are participants or students likely to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmed?
  • How could harm come to faculty or to the educational institution?


  • What is the capacity of students (in terms of maturity, skill, and knowledge) to perform activities expected by instructor and community partner?
  • Do students have enough time to engage in the civic engagement/service learning project?


  • Who will provide orientation, monitoring, and supervision? (faculty, community organization staff, consultants?)

Potential for Exploitation

  • Are we exploiting the community for learning purposes or for research purposes?
  • What is reciprocity between campus and community partners?
  • What is a fair exchange?
  • What issues about power and powerlessness are raised?
  • Do we monitor to ensure that our students are not exploited by the community partner?

Dangerous Knowledge

  • What happens if students are privy to confidences about suicide, violence, or criminal actions?
  • What if students uncover malfeasance, illegal actions, or discriminatory practices?


  • Should students end relationships with agencies and clients when the semester is over?
  • What activities are not acceptable?
  • What are the implications of the academic calendar for bringing closure to projects and continuing relationships?
  • What is our responsibility to ensure that needed services are continued?

Confidentiality and Privacy

  • What responsibilities do we have to ensure confidentiality and privacy?
  • Do community participants know that they are subjects of journals, papers, class presentations, and discussions?
  • Should real names or pseudonyms be used?
  • What about identifying data?
  • What is the potential for harm upon upon disclosure?

Dignity and Respect

  • Are faculty responsible for teaching communication skills or empathy along with our discipline studies?
  • Should we assume that community partner agencies will teach special skills?
  • Do we assume that students will be prompt, reliable, and respectful or do we emphasize those qualities as we introduce the project?

At Carleton:

(Modified from presentation by Barbara Rich, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Southern Maine)