Indiana State students to learn about ethics in new graduation requirements

March 17, 2011

Though several students of Indiana State University Professor Marion Schafer discussed recycling with children, one of Schafer's pupils had another group he sought to reach.

The student taught recycling information to his peers - who, like him, were stationed halfway around the world in war-torn Iraq.

The class project was done in a course Schafer teaches in the ethics and social responsibility category of Foundational Studies 2010, the general education requirements that all ISU students must fulfill to earn their undergraduate degrees. Foundational Studies, which at the start of the school year replaced the previous graduation requirements in General Education 2000, consists of a variety of categories. In the ethics and social responsibility group, classes from an array of different disciplines teach students about ethics.

"I've got a lot of positive feedback from students who've taken the course," Schafer said of his class, which is provided for distance education. "They feel like their vision has been expanded in ways they didn't expect, their eyes opened to what's going on in the world, and they respect the environment more and realize that they have choices that they can make."

The ethics and social responsibility category was created after a proposal from a task force that reviewed general requirements for ISU students. Students taking a class in the category also are required to participate in an active learning exercise, so they're "applying what they're learning to real-world issues," said Linda Maule, associate professor of public law and legal studies and director of the Foundational Studies program.

About three-quarters of the classes offered in the category were existing courses that were modified to be a part of the ethics and social responsibility curriculum, Maule said.

Additional classes are planned. Bill Wilhelm, coordinator and associate professor of business education, information and technology, is developing the Ethics in Organizations class, which will be part of the Foundational Studies curriculum.

In the class, Wilhelm said that students will learn about decision-making pressures within an individual, or biases, and decision-making pressures that can be encountered within an organization, which are known as heuristics.

"Students are going to be working in those organizations, and we want to make sure that they are aware of some of these potential influences that might take them down a slippery slope toward bad decision making," Wilhelm said. "So they need to explore those things."

Wilhelm plans to use current events to help teach lessons about ethics. In the class, students also will learn about ethical dilemmas, in which students will need to decide on a course of action, even when some people may be adversely affected by their decisions.

He also plans on sharing information about a role-play simulation one of his classes did last fall, in which students role-played as members of a fictitious bank's board of directors that had to respond after they learned the bank's president lied publicly about the financial institution's business practices. The simulation was based on actions that allegedly occurred during the Great Recession.

The class is expected to be offered for the first time next fall. Its popularity among students will determine how often the course is offered in the future. The course will be very helpful, because the lessons are not specific to any particular industry, Wilhelm said.

"It's inclusive of all types of organizations, and what students are going to encounter in the workplace, whether it's a non-profit or a governmental or educational institution, or a business," he added.

Debra Israel, ISU associate professor of economics, wanted to develop her new course, Econ 103: Economic Perspectives on Environmental Problems, for students that otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn about the subject in an economics class. A similar course that she taught was an upper-level class that had prerequisites for a student to enroll.

The new course was a good fit for Foundational Studies, because environmental issues include environmental justice issues and public policy decisions, Israel said.

"So there's essentially no shortage of ethics and social responsibility questions that come into play when you're looking at environmental problems," she added.

Several other classes she teaches already include "active learning" activities, which made the new course a good fit for the Foundational Studies requirements. Numerous local events, such as community clean-up days or opportunities to volunteer at the Terre Haute Children's Museum, provide ISU students with the chance to get involved in the Wabash Valley.

"There's all sorts of ways we can get involved in looking at what local policy is, what are some of our local environmental issues, as well as the more global ones," Israel said, "so I think it's a really exciting class."

Some students have already started taking classes in the new category. But since the Foundational Studies curriculum just went into effect last semester, it's too early to see if the classes have accomplished their goal, Maule said.

"But I would say that as someone who reviewed the courses and sat on the council that approved the courses, I'm very impressed with what each of them is doing," Maule said, "and I'm excited that as a result of this category we can say with certainty that every student who graduates from ISU will have had this experience."


Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1218537820_b8Zch-L.jpg (ISU/Kara Berchem)
Indiana State University Professor Marion Schafer speaks with then ISU student Danny Morken in this 2008 file photo. Schafer teaches a course in the ethics and social responsibility category of Foundational Studies 2010, the general education requirements that ISU students must fulfill to earn their undergraduate degrees.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1216056587_Gk49X-O.jpg (Submitted Photo)
Debra Israel, associate professor of economics at Indiana State University, and her class listen to a speaker during a tour at the wastewater treatment plant in Terre Haute. Israel will teach a new course, Econ 103: Economic Perspectives on Environmental Problems, which will be in the ethics and social responsibility category in Foundational Studies 2010.

Contact: Linda Maule, associate professor of public law and legal studies and director of the Foundational Studies program, Indiana State University, 812-237-3940 or lmaule@indstate.edu.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu.