Ethically speaking

Ethics center director takes message to universities in India

March 26, 2014

Six years after the Center for Applied Ethics was founded, ethics in education is more than a buzzword to students, faculty and staff at University of Wisconsin-Stout. It has become part of campus culture.

Undergraduates can take a new 12-credit certificate program in applied ethics. Students in all disciplines discuss ethics, including in general education and other classes. Faculty and staff have access to Center for Applied Ethics resources, including workshops, speakers and research.

"We're very lucky to have what we have here," said Elizabeth Buchanan, director of the center.

Buchanan visits children at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, a free school in Bhubaneshwar, India.Buchanan was reminded of just how much progress has been made at UW-Stout while on a recent trip to India, where she was invited to speak at two universities.

India has not fully addressed ethical issues in its education system in the wake of rapid technological progress, she said.

"The education system in India is very different. Technology students have very few electives and don't have an opportunity for general education or to take ethics," Buchanan said.

"These institutions were really interested in what I do at UW-Stout and how I do it. People understand the importance of ethics, but in technology education students focus primarily on technical skills and not ethical theories or frameworks."

Buchanan was keynote speaker in Bhubaneshwar, India, at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology at the 10th annual International Conference on Distributed Computing and Internet Technology. She lectured on ethics related to robotics and artificial intelligence and on additional ways to infuse ethics education into the high-tech curricula of KIIT.

Buchanan’s lecture at the University of Hyderabad was advertised outside the school’s science facility.Like UW-Stout, Wisconsin's Polytechnic University, KIIT is a polytechnic whose mission includes cultivating ethics, morality and healthy practices in professional lives. KIIT is a top-ranked private institution in India.

To some students in India, the concept of ethics as Buchanan explained it was truly foreign, but Buchanan made her points. After she spoke, one student astutely understood ethics to mean that "I may be good, but if I'm not ethical I'm not respected."

Historically, ethical behavior has been an important part of life in India, but "India as a society is moving further away from ethics being embedded in the culture," Buchanan said. "Technology and development have come so quickly that fundamental social, ethical and cultural issues have not been addressed."

From Bhubaneshwar, Buchanan went to the high-tech city of Hyderabad and the University of Hyderabad, a premier Indian institution of postgraduate teaching and research.

She delivered the university's prestigious Distinguished Lecture, focusing on research on ethics pedagogy and challenges facing computer professionals in a globally connected, diverse work force. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted at UW-Stout.

Buchanan meets with students and faculty at the University of Hyderabad.Buchanan found attentive audiences at both universities. "People were excited to talk about ethics," she said.

After leaving India, Buchanan stopped at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, to discuss research ethics in a European Union-funded project focusing on Internet extremism. She serves on the Ethics Advisory Board to the project.

In all, Buchanan gave five presentations and met with students and faculty at the universities.

Center founded in 2008

The UW-Stout Center for Applied Ethics was founded in 2008 with the support of a donation to the Stout University Foundation by anonymous donors. The center serves as a campuswide resource, with the mission of infusing ethics into all aspects of the UW-Stout experience, including research, teaching and service.

In 2012 and 2013, the center worked with university staff to include ethics in revised general education requirements.

This spring, the 12-credit undergraduate Certificate in Applied Ethics, developed by the center, is being offered for the first time. 

"We're doing a big push with undergraduates to work with different programs on campus. We want them to think about ethical issues in their discipline or in their profession," Buchanan said. "Students are ready. They understand these issues."

The Ethics Center Scholars Program is in its second year, in cooperation with the College of Health, Education and Human Sciences. Professor Robert Salt and Associate Professor Markie Blumer conduct research with the center and work with faculty and departments across campus.

Buchanan lectures and presents on campus, facilitates workshops and speaks often around the state and country. In late April, she will speak on moral development at the annual Early Childhood Education Conference at UW-Stout.

The Center for Applied Ethics is in room 430 of the Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center. For more information, contact Buchanan.