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Teaching Ethics in The Professional Curriculum

Fri ,11/08/2017

Many schools introduce introduce ethical principles into the curriculum.  For those entering into professional studies, there are also ethical principles particular to their chosen profession which the student needs to understand and practice.

Below is an outline of how professional ethics may be introduced into a professional curriculum. This presentation was developed during The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions Workshop taught by Dr. Michael Davis and Dr. Bob Ladensen  and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The workshop was designed to encourage instructors in professional fields to introduce ethics into their curriculum and attempts to answer the following questions:

* What are Professional Ethics ?

*Why Teach Professional Ethics ?

*Who Should Teach Prof. Ethics?

*Why Not Teach Professional Ethics ?

*What Methods Might Be Used?


*What are Professional Ethics ?

   “Professional Ethics are a set of rules everyone in the profession wants kept even if that means they will also have to keep the same rules.” …Davis

 o Professional Codes of Conduct:

  • Standardize profession’s work.
  • Are based on common sense.
  • Define a particular type of professional judgement.
  • Are modified based on experience.
  • Should be used on a continuing basis.
  • Apply to all who practice.

Every profession has its code of professional ethics. One example is the ABET code of ethics for engineers:


   General principle: Engineer; uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by: using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare; being honest and impartial, and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients; striving to increase the competence and prestige of the engineering profession; and supporting the professional and technical societies of their disciplines.

General Canons:

Engineers should hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.  (That is particularly important as we all must rely for our safety on the work of engineers.)

  • Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.
  • Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Engineers shall build their profes­sional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
  • Engineers shall act in such a manner as to upheld and enhance the honor, integrity and dignity of the profession.
  • Engineers shall continue their pro­fessional development throughout their careers and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.

*Why Teach Professional Ethics ?

  • Emphasizes importance of ethical behavior.
  • Creates awareness of ethical issues.
  • Teaches Code of Profession.
  • Defines fairness.
  • Protects the Public.
  • Protects the Professional.

.            >Less likely to engage in unethical practices.

.            >Not liable – if code of ethics is followed.

.            >Not easily replaced – if every engineer follows a code.

*Who Should Teach Professional Ethics?

o The Philosopher?

  • Has the knowledge.
  • Is skilled at teaching ethics.
  • May feel overwhelmed by all the requests.
  • Students may have difficulty applying general theory to specific professional problems.

o The Professional?

  • Lacks knowledge of moral theory.
  • May feel unsure of methods.
  • Knows the special conduct required by profession.
  • May serve as a role model.

     ” The workshop’s goal is for the Philosopher to teach the instructor who will then teach the classes.”… Davis

*Why Not Teach Professional Ethics ?

“Seven Worries” …Davis

o The professional worries about:

  1. Being value neutral.
  2. Relativism.
  3. Subjectism.
  4. Lack of knowledge.
  5. shades of gray.
  6. Indoctrinating.
  7. Seeming Holier-than-Thou.

 If you narrow the task to teaching Professional Ethics as defined by your Profession’s Code of Conduct, these worries will not be insurmountable.”  … Davis

*What methods can be used and when?

o Increase Ethical Sensitivity (1st year)

  • Raise ethical issues.
  • Brief case studies.
  • Use stories.

o Increase Ethical Knowledge (2nd year)

  • Use Professional Code.
  • Raise easy issues.

o Improve Ethical Judgment (3rd year)

  • Use case studies.
  • Make it personal. What would you do?
  • What might happen then?

o Enhance Will Power (4th year)

  • Create peer pressure to be ethical.
  • Increase awareness of institutional support.
  • How to defend oneself based on Code.
  • Discuss how organizations work.

* Tips on Using Case Studies.

o Finding Ideas

  • Your experiences. (or colleague’s)
  • Current news. Science fiction.
  • organizations or journals.
  • The Internet.
  • CSEP library.
  • Challenger disaster. Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Many disasters are the result of a failure of ethics.”  … Davis

o Using Case Studies.

  • Acknowledge all comments.
  • Don’t argue with students.
  • Encourage spontaneity.
  • It’s OK to express your opinion.
  • Try dividing into groups. Leaders report back.
  • Try structuring the discussion.

o Structuring the discussion.

  • What are facts?
  • What standards apply.
  • Who should decide?
  • How should decision be made?
  • What action should be taken?
  • Was action effective?
  • Should anything else be done?

o Miscellaneous Ideas.

  • Put section on ethics in courses.
  • Attach Professional Code or College’s Ethical Code .
  • Have Co-op students include ethical issues in journal.
  • Evaluate impact.


I introduced professional ethics into my chemistry seminar course. Below is a form used to evaluate its impact. The student comments are particularly interesting.

Course Impact Survey

1. Did this course increase your awareness of ethical issues likely to arise in your profession or job?

Yes: 10              Yes and No: 2

2. Did this course do anything to change your understanding of the importance of professional or

business ethics?

Yes: 9               No: 3

3. Did this course increase your ability to deal with the ethical issues in your profession?

Yes: 12              No: 0

4. Was time spent on ethics in this course to little,

about right, or too much ?

Too little: 2          Right amount: 10            Too much: 0

5. Did you have business or professional ethics in a class before this one?

Yes:  5          No: 7

Selected Student Comments:

“The course increased my awareness and helped me get some things straight with the people I work with.”

“I saw how it was important to be honest in your work and with others who work with you.”

“I learned that ethical issues usually involve difficult solutions … and that sometimes we must speak about them to people not directly involved in them.”

“…. helped me become more aware of how many people or facets of society are affected by unethical choices.”

The case studies presented a realistic picture of possible situations that may arise.”

You have a responsibility not only to your work but

to society and the people who are, or could be, potentially affected by your work.”


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