“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
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
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