SEQUEIRA: All disciplines must prioritize ethical studies

Ethics is the uniting factor among all vocations

opbpoilspillcourtesywikimediacommons

Ethical scenarios oftentimes involve multiple groups, such as the disastrous BP oil spill. 

When we graduate from the University, we will foray into many domains of professional work — some will migrate to economic fields while others will flock to teaching while still others will migrate to health care, not to mention all the disciplines in between. Although similarities between disciplines are truly sparse and the differences abound, ethics is arguably the most important similarity across vocations. Ethics is typically sprinkled into four year curricula, but it is important for each major and degree combination to reevaluate the content of their course chronology and include a class devoted to ethics, an imperative and ultimately preparative concept to amalgamate into their future professional practices.

The pervasiveness and perpetuation of ethics throughout a variety of disciplines is well documented in history. From the ethically ambiguous architectural Citicorps situation, in which William LeMessurier retracted a building which was exposed as structurally inadequate, to the scenario where a physician must choose whether or not to inform a patient of his terminal condition when a relative urges him not to. Our world is replete with these ambiguous ethical situations, and oftentimes professionals make the wrong choice. What’s worse is that these objectively incorrect decisions typically lead to disaster, often of large proportions like the case of Deepwater Horizon or the Hyatt Regency collapse. Therefore, the question is not whether an ethics class is necessary, but rather the logistics of such a class and how to optimize its mimicry of real scenarios that a student will face in the future.

Several degree programs have a strong ethical component, but the content, structure and congruency to real scenarios must be revamped to ensure our graduates are truly prepared to enter the professional world. For one, there is no degree program which has an ethics class or component that integrates other majors, a common practice in the professional world. Take the Deepwater Horizon as a case study. Engineers were not the only group of individuals culpable or involved in the largest oil disaster in a century. BP Management, researchers and academicians were all involved in the disaster. Similarly, when a physician is faced with an ethically rigorous scenario, it is not just the physician or the medical team that is involved. The patient, the patient’s family, the hospital and litigators are all involved in one way or another. While some more active in the ethical questionability, it is nevertheless another example where ethical scenarios oftentimes involve multiple groups and the collaboration between said groups when mitigating the scenario.

An ideal ethics class should be administered near the conclusion of an undergraduate’s studies at the University such that the student has acquired the requisite knowledge to be fluent in the cases that may induce ethical ambiguity. Additionally, this course should be case based so students become indistinguishable from professionals engaging with an ethical issue. By immersing them into a real scenario in which the stakes are high and the responsibility is tangible, students will learn how to think critically about ethical dilemmas, as well as hone vital skills such as maintaining composure under intense pressure. Above all, it is imperative that this course be independent from other courses. Ethics and its verbose discussions are oftentimes accentuated and forgotten. In order to develop strong ethics and even stronger skills to survive in the professional world, consistency is as important as content.

The administration behind degree programs arguably has one of the toughest jobs in the country. How does one reconcile freedom and “finding one’s self” with mandatory classes necessary to develop skills that will prepare a student for the world after college? In any case, whether or not an ethics class is ultimately implemented in degree programs across the University, it is worth seriously considering.

Sean Sequeira is an Opinion columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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