A diverse group of University faculty, staff and students gathered in the Michigan League last night to discuss the ethical implications of everything from the war in Iraq to whether libraries at Greek houses give fraternity and sorority members an unfair advantage. The gathering was for an all-campus forum on University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Task Force on Ethics in Public Life.
About 75 people came to the forum, which was designed to gather opinions on which ethical issues the task force should concentrate on and how it should engage them.
“We’re trying to get input, a direction to go in,” said Jason Weinstein, a member of the task force and 2nd-year Law School student.
Spurred by ethical lapses in American society in areas such as big business, religion and journalism, Coleman created the task force to explore how the University could best study ethics in public life. She announced it last September as one of four major initiatives in her State of the University address.
The task force plans to prepare a report by the end of March detailing what direction it believes the study of ethics should take at the University. In April, it plans to make a recommendation to Coleman. From there, the timeline blurs.
“It may take both some long-range planning and short term,” said Marvin Krislov, task force co-chair and University general counsel. “There may be more than one stage.”
No decisions have yet been made as to how the University should go about studying ethics in public life. Among others, possibilities include a major center for the study of ethics, coordinated faculty hiring, new courses, seed funding or a consortium.
“Right now, we’re tying to assess our needs,” Krislov said. “It might be a physical center. It might not. There (is) a wide range of possibilities.”
There will most likely be two separate components to the study: one for public life and one for campus life. The public-life component would address controversial topics such as stem-cell research, while the campus-life component would focus on local issues such as the ethics of race-based admission policies.
Task force members asked forum attendees what ethical issues they thought should be included in the University’s planned discussions on ethics.
Pertaining to the public sphere, attendees brought up the Iraq war and urged the University to look at its moral implications. They also suggested that whatever organization results from the task force examine health care, social security and business ethics.
University-related topics included Internet plagiarism, post-tenure review and possible divestment from companies that are associated with immoral activity. In response to similar activity at Brown University, some attendees also wanted ethics researchers to investigate whether the University has ever had ties to slavery in its past.
Attendees suggested that one way the University could provoke discussion on those topics would be by educating people about current problems.
Discussion was also devoted to how the University would decide what is ethical and what is not. Attendees raised the question of what basis — such as social or religious beliefs — ethical standards would be centered on.
The 19 members on the task force represent a wide range of University departments and organizations, ranging from special counsel to the president Gary Krenz to MSA President Jason Mironov.