University Ethics Requirements

My university is supposed to certify to the NSF that all university graduate students (undergraduate and postdoctoral researchers too) have had training in the responsible and ethical conduct of research.  I'm curious whether other philosophy departments offer a general course in Research Ethics for such reasons. It seems to me as though it is a good way to make Philosophy central to the mission of the University.  I'd appreciate hearing about your experiences and advice.

Secondly and relatedly, I also wonder how many secular colleges require all students to take a course in ethics in order to earn their undergraduate degree.  I know that plenty of Catholic colleges have such a rule, but what about other kinds of colleges?

5 Replies to “University Ethics Requirements

  1. To answer the second question first, our new gen ed program (starts next year) will require a “philosophy or ethics” course. The original plan was that an ethics course would be required, either an intro ethics course from us or a discipline-specific course taught by a department for their own majors. The problem for us was that there was going to be no place for other intro philosophy courses in the program at all. We fought for making philosophy and ethics separate requirements, with an intro ethics courses from us satisfying both simultaneously, but this hodgepodge requirement is what we were forced to accept.
    As to the first question, the short version of the story is that our university decided to put together web-based modules on different aspects of ethics for graduate students. One module is essentially on philosophical ethics. A colleague whose specialty is Latin American history was tasked with creating this module. I was asked if I wanted to “assist” him. I declined.

  2. It used to be that all undergraduates in the Faculty of Philosophy had to take a course on ethics, now it’s just optional. As for graduate students, there is a shared course on the methods and ethics of science for the Faculty of Philosophy and Faculty of Social Sciences and Education, but that is also an optional course.

  3. In my college, which was both private and Catholic, undergraduates were either required to take a theology class or a philosophy course. It could be any type of philosophy course: ethics, logic, history of philosophy, etc.

  4. I started teaching a 1-credit graduate seminar in research ethics to help satisfy this need. Our Center for Molecular Biology has made it the recommended course to fill their ethics requirement, and we have been getting about 15 students per year. I co-teach it with two other professors, one in agronomy and one in horticulture, who have had long-standing interests in research ethics. You can see the 2008 schedule at:

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