Overview of Ethics in Higher Education


In the United States, the roots of the relationship between moral education and higher education are firmly grounded in America's Judeo-Christian heritage. The purpose of "higher" education was to pursue truth, and truth was inextricably linked to morality. In our Christian perspective, the best and correct moral truths were found in scripture. As science evolved, so did an allegiance to empiricism. The scientific method became what differentiated facts and values, and suddenly truth could be debated. Scholars began to argue that the best forms of knowing were the result of empirical inquiry. This was the point at which the pursuit of knowledge departed from the pursuit of morality and religion. Factual truth became the domain of science and moral truths were left to the purview of religion.

Higher education had to find a way to honor the pursuit of truth, and sustain its connection to moral development. It did so by secularizing moral education. It found ways to engage students in moral development that were philosophically based, and not religious based. No longer was morality considered a product of religious piety. Complete secularization did not occur until late in the 20th century, and only after institutions of higher education dabbled with the idea that scientific truth equated to moral goodness. As academic disciplines emerged, the struggle to differentiate and distinguish themselves from other academic disciplines became paramount, and the idea emerged that the value each discipline added to society was through technical excellence, not moral guidance. It was at this point, late in the 20th century that higher education experienced an institutional bifurcation of morality and truth. Given the fact that moral education and higher education is inextricably linked in the American consciousness, the separation of morality and truth did not absolve colleges and universities of their responsibility to create developmental experiences that would improve goodness and morality in its students. And so evolved several strategies to inculcate students to a world of "rightness" and "goodness" as proxies for moral soundness. To explicate some of those strategies is the purpose of this web site.

Since the 1980s, there has been a trend in higher education institutions to review, revive, or create ethics policies. Most of these school have been inspired by scandals occurring on their campuses. For instance, in 2003, 12% of the women graduating from the United States Air Force Academy reported having been raped by male cadets during their four year undergraduate experience. This incident caused not only the Air Force Academy, but colleges across the nation, to seriously consider the role of ethical development in their curriculum. Colleges found themselves soul searching for ways to reconcile their role in the moral and ethical lives of their students (Reuben, 1996).

Additionally, there has been a rise in plagiarism on college campuses, fueled in part by the abundance of information accessible by the Internet and the ease with which a student can access that information. For example, in 2003, a graduate student at Ohio University uncovered 55 theses written in the mechanical engineering department that showed evidence of plagiarism. The scandal and its coverage ruined OU's reputation; the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at OU instituted its first honor code in February 2008.

This site has been created to assist faculty and administrators navigate through the complex issues that surround ethics education on a college campus. It also provides several examples of how a variety of schools - with very different characteristics - address the education of ethics to their students. This site highlights programs and school
s that believe it is possible to teach ethics to college-age students, it is the responsibility of college to do so, and the outcomes of this type of education are measurable.