The ethics of it all

Oct 192003
Authors: Christopher J. Ortiz

“You’re the last person I want doing genetic engineering…you

don’t have any ethics,” I told a friend of mine during a lunch

conversation about the College of Engineering cutting the

Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering Program.

Later on that day, I began to think about how ethics are taught

to today’s college student and the frightening thought that some

students can go through their entire undergraduate career without

hearing the all-important “e” word – ethics.

Conveniently enough, later on I found myself in another ethics

discussion in JT211, Visual Communications – a requirement for all

technical journalism majors, including public relations majors. The

discussion was over a reprint in Life Magazine of the infamous

picture depicting the 1970 Kent State shootings with the woman

crying out over a body of a student who was shot by the National

Guard. When Life reran the photograph, the editors took the liberty

of removing a fence post that stood out above the woman’s head, for

mere cosmetic reasons.

The impression I got from many of my peers was that it was okay

for the editors to do that because “it didn’t change the meaning”

and because “it looks better.” I was appalled by this consensus and

prayed at the end of my bed that night that all those comments came

from PR majors and that real journalism majors slept in that


“I teach by example,” said Patrick Plaisance, a professor of

media ethics for the journalism program and my JT320 professor.

“Ideally I want to be able to present myself as a person who is

ethical in everything I do.”

Plaisance feels media has a special role in society, and because

of that role journalists have to be conscious of the questions of

ethics that come with the job. He said it’s not the black-and-white

part of the job that he is worried about, it’s the murky gray areas

that journalists deal with everyday. In the case of Jayson Blair,

ethics was not a concern because what the New York Times reporter

did by falsifying sources and stories was just wrong, no


There is currently a trend nationwide for specific courses in

media ethics, Plaisance said, and it is because teaching students

how to arrive at answers of complex questions is becoming more and

more important.

He said it is not his job to teach students what is right and

what is wrong; rather, teach strategies to students to think

through ethical questions and how to arrive to ethical


Just like the professional world of journalism, the world of

business is not filled with black-and-white decisions but more of

the confusing and murky grayness. The world of business right now

is slowly licking it wounds from the Worldcom and Enron bite (and

Qwest looks like it is going to attack soon, too). Just as with

Blair, those decisions made by companies’ executives was a

black-and-white case but what about those decisions where there

isn’t a manual book to look up the answer?

In order to keep its accreditation with The Association to

Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the college must require

undergrads to take a business ethics course and it also

incorporates ethics in its freshmen orientation class, but how does

a professor teach ethics to students whose major is all about the


Dr. O.S. Ferrell, is the co-director of business ethics and

social issues at the College of Business at CSU.

“In business, we look at the ethical decision making from an

organization perceptive; corporate culture restricts an individual

making individual decisions,” said Ferrell, who is helping to put a

Business Ethics Symposium that the college is sponsoring.

He gave the example that a new employee couldn’t walk in Hewlett

Packard and tell them what to do. If Enron and Worldcom did

anything, they highlighted the fact of difficult business

decision-making is considered ethical in our society, Ferrell


It seemed to me after talking with Ferrell that business

students are being given deputy badges while in college to face to

in lawless West that is the business world of today. Good luck.

There was one person in my search of ethics who put me at ease.

Meet Bernard Rollin, a professor of philosophy, who teaches

veterinary ethics at the College of Veterinary Medicine and

Biomedical Science.

Rollin said a big ethical challenge for vet students is making

decisions by the seat of your pants because society has not set

values for animals. Unlike making unethical decisions in the

business or journalism world, there are not rigid rules in animal


True, there are crimes against cruelty towards animals but there

is not law against a woman who brings in her dog to be put down

because it no longer fits the color scheme of her house, as in the

case Rollin told me that made me quiver.

Just like Plaisance, Rollin said his job isn’t to teach what is

right or wrong to students, he said that students didn’t know that

by the time they reached college, “we are out of luck,” – I have

taken the liberty of leaving out a word before out.

And I agree with him completely. If professors have to be given

the task of teaching right and wrong to students who are 18, 19

years old call it a day and hope there is something good on

television, but I think Rollin’s philosophy is on track; teach

students how to reach those hard ethical decisions that life hands

out in unmarked fast-food doggy bags.

Rollin is an optimist and as made me one as well. He said there

is no question about the role of ethics in students getting better.

The university no longer performs repeated surgery on animals

because of students’ initiative.

“Young minds are more open to new ideas,” said Rollin, who feels

he has been successful in his teachings.

Hopefully there are people like Rollins, Ferrell and Plaisance

in every practice and discipline at CSU so when that young freshmen

who is sitting in his or her class can hear the “e” word every once

in awhile and can let people like me sleep a little better at





 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.