Letters to the EditorOpinion

University needs civil ethics course

The University offers a plethora of courses geared to meeting students’ educational needs and stimulating their interests in diverse subjects. But one important course is missing and should be required of all students — civic ethics. The course should include sections on government systems, laws, politics, cultures, customs, religions, and ecology, and focus on worldwide differences in what is considered right and wrong behavior.

Students need civic ethics to build personal value systems that are tolerant and understanding of others, to communicate effectively, and to prepare to work on solving the world’s problems.

Today, world peace and equitable allocation of the planet’s resources remain elusive universally sought-after goals because we lack common understandings.

The global financial crisis, spread of swine flu and avian flu, dependence on international trade for resources and products, increasing populations and capabilities in what were once dismissed “third world” countries, destruction of important parts of the ecosphere, and the spread of unrest and illegal activities troubles people around the world.

Civic ethics would help eliminate the confusion that can arise when different ethical standards are applied to problems in different settings, and the course would prepare students to address common concerns.

Some may argue that a civic ethics course is not needed because the University already acknowledges the need for cross-cultural training and offers a rich array of courses addressing different cultures and lifestyles. The mission statement declares “a commitment to international awareness and understanding, and the development of a faculty and student body that are capable of participating effectively in a global society.”

The statement also espouses a commitment to “the cultivation of an attitude toward citizenship that fosters … the wise exercise of civic responsibilities and individual judgment throughout life.” Nevertheless, the University bachelor’s degree requirements include no courses that would ensure these goals are met.

Bachelor’s degree requirements include a minimum of six credits (two courses) to fulfill a multicultural requirement geared toward “introducing students to the richness of human diversity and to the opportunities and challenges of life in a multicultural society.” To fulfill the requirement, a bachelor’s degree candidate gets to pick any two classes from the categories of American cultures; identity, pluralism and tolerance; and international cultures.

Descriptions of these categories allude to some classes that might touch upon civic ethics, but of the 127 courses to choose from to meet the multicultural requirement, none appears to takes a global perspective emphasizing the diverse views of ethics in different countries, religious and social groups; no two courses will be adequate to meet the University’s stated objectives, even in combination with all other courses a student must successfully complete to receive a degree.

Administration at the University may argue that no one qualifies to teach a civic ethics course covering government systems, laws, politics, culture, customs, religions, and ecology.

A course can be created, however, including salient materials from each discipline that will stimulate thought, understanding, and the desire to obtain additional information. The University is bursting with specialists having bits of the knowledge all students need. The civic ethics course could be structured as modules taught by these specialists and could culminate in a panel discussion of the interrelationship between the different disciplines.

To measure effectiveness of the course, the University could require students to submit final papers entitled, “What civic ethics means to me,” in which they would reflect on their responsibility as individuals in global society. Their thoughtful reflections would offer proof that the University fulfills its mission, and we could hope for a better world.

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