Report on the Center for Ethics: After Three Years

Table of Contents

1. Narrative on the formation, commission strategies, on-going projects, and observations regarding the Center

2.  Appendices
          Advisory Board Members
          Ethics-related Dissertation Seminars
          Ethics and Teaching Lunch Program Series
          Good Offices and Creating Synergy
          Other Projects
          Common Moral Problems


Report on the Center for Ethics
After Three Years


     The Vanderbilt University Center for Ethics officially opened in January, 2006.  Provost Nick Zeppos appointed a committee in 2003, chaired by Dean James Hudnut-Beumler, to recommend to him a rationale and structure for a university center for ethics that would address significant ethical issues and questions in the context of disciplinary and trans-disciplinary knowledge and teaching.  The Committee’s report in 2004 set a broad purpose for the new Center: it should initiate and support programs, curricular offerings, teaching, and research that foster sustained ethical alertness, self-examination, and character development.  The Center’s guiding intentions are to support the mission, goals, and values of this university and, consistent with the founding report, to promote a learning and research environment that nurtures reflective, ethical insight and leadership among students and faculty members across the university.

     We also received two additional charges.  One was to develop the Center in a way that is unique to Vanderbilt.  To carry out that charge we have cultivated and actively pursued values-related initiatives that arise out of the teaching and research interests of faculty members and from questions and issues that students raise.  Second, we were asked to produce programs that will have a continuing effect in the life of the university.  Consequent to that mandate we have concentrated on teaching, the curriculum, and research projects that fit into faculty members’ on-going work, as distinct, for example, to sponsoring “one shot” lectures and expensive conferences.  Most of the public lectures we sponsor in the context of the Center’s initiative are in direct relation to courses and their subject matter.

     In 2006, at the initiative of Provost Zeppos, the Cal Turner Program For Moral Leadership in the Professions came under our umbrella.  This move indicated the constructive and collaborative connection between the two entities.  James Hudnut-Beumler and I worked together closely in formulating the new relationship between the Center and CTP for the Provost’s approval.  The CTP’s Board was dissolved, several of its members were added to the Center for Ethics’ Board of Advisors, and the Program retained its autonomous mission, funding and budget.  The CTP has from its inception focused on the Divinity School, OGSM, and Law School, and consequent to its emphasis we have focused less on those Schools, although we have worked in a complementary way with many faculty members and students from each of them.  A report from Graham Reside, Director of the CTP, can be found in the Appendix.

The Question of “Ethics”

     The word, ethics, can be understood appropriately in many ways.  The Center is guided by the close affiliation of “ethics” with the phrase, “values that form people’s ways of life.”  Instead of placing emphasis on theoretical systems or on one, defining code of behavior, the Center is oriented by the importance of: a) engaging with reflective awareness the values that define one’s own life and the lives of other people and societies;  b) recognizing that the ways we do our research, teach, and connect with our colleagues constitute ways of living that are figured by many, sometimes conflicting values;  c) knowing that a body of tacit predispositions – a kind of climate – characterizes any institution or organization and inclines their participants toward more or less interest in value-oriented deliberation and positive codes of behavior; d) recognizing that production and use of knowledge are never value-neutral in their institutional setting; and e) affirming the constructive opportunities presented in this community of people who represent a wide variety of social backgrounds and who affirm many different ways of life.  The Center is thus committed to fostering attention to formations of values and the consequences of those formations in all areas of human endeavor and to enhancing Vanderbilt’s climate of encouragement regarding ethical inquiry, deliberation, and critique.

Guiding Strategies

    1.  Collaboration.  The Center’s approach to programming and projects is based on the value of collaborative effort in establishing an ongoing effect in the University’s life.  Our collaborative efforts are often multidisciplinary in nature and extend to schools, departments, programs (such as Vanderbilt Visions, CTP, and OACS), and other centers.

     2.  Multidisciplinary Engagement.  We find an impressive degree of excitement among faculty and students in many venues when productive, cross-disciplinary exchange focused by questions of value takes place.  These venues range from our dissertation seminars to May seminars to interdisciplinary courses that we support and to such on-going programs as the Global Feminisms Collaborative and the multi-year study on Common Moral Dilemmas in the Professions.  Such engagements often expand participants’ awareness of the complexity of many ethical issues and the importance of addressing them with the knowledge and perception of several disciplinary approaches.

     3.  Impacting curricula.  In evaluating ways to affect the University’s on-going life we decided that there is no emphasis more important than on the courses we teach and on those who teach them.  One goal is to provide opportunities for faculty members to develop new classes or segments of classes on issues and topics of ethical concern and also to develop new pedagogical approaches to those issues and topics.  We meet that goal in part by means of one week topical seminars in May, grants for disciplinary and multidisciplinary course development, and such programs as those we co-sponsor with the Center for Teaching and the Engineering School. We have also initiated positions in collaboration with CAS and Engineering that are partially supported by Center funds and that provide desirable courses on ethics-related topics and issues.  These positions will be described below.

     4.  Non-Advocacy.  The Center supports programs and approaches from a wide variety of ethical orientations and does not advocate for special causes or particular political points of view.  It is committed to fostering reflective and critical ethical inquiry, awareness, and activity in connection with many cultural, religious, and ethical perspectives and commitments.  There are limits, of course, and I am aware that the Center’s position in this context is a particular approach with many ethical commitments.  That too is up for evaluation and critical discussion.  The strategic point is that within the defined range of the University’s mission, goals, and values the Center invites value-oriented endeavors with many and often conflicting points of view.

     5.  The Value of Process.  One of the Center’s major activities takes place due to our strongly encouraging on-going discussion and deliberation in the process of developing sponsored courses, seminars, and programs.  I find these processes among the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of the Center’s work.  Preparatory to programs with the Center for Teaching or the May Seminars or interdisciplinary courses, for example, we typically will engage with the leaders in many hours of often intense exchange around our seminar table or via email over a period of several months on the subject matter and approach.  All of us who participate are impacted as our understanding of the project’s subject and of each other develops and deepens.  I doubt that the results are measurable but they are certainly palpable for those involved.

     6.  Good Offices and Creating Synergy.  The Center facilitates a variety of  initiatives that various entities in the University take over, such as a 4+1 option in social and applied philosophy to be pursued though the philosophy department in collaboration with Centers for Ethics at either Stellenbosch University in South Africa or the University of Melbourne in Australia, the initial work on an ethics option for MLAS, development of two modules for use in Vanderbilt Visions seminars, introductory courses in biomedical ethics and business ethics in CAS,  a course on corporate social responsibility at Peabody, a new, introductory course in ethics in the Law School, and four workshops on careers in the non-profit sector (co-sponsored with the Writing Studio).

     7.  Research Grants.  The Center makes a number of  research grants that include among others such initiatives as the three year project on Common Moral Dilemmas in the Professions  (in collaboration with the CTP and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society),  a two-year grant for research preparatory to a book by Michael Bess entitled The Centrist Manifesto, a three year summer research initiative on Religion, Politics and War (in collaboration with the Divinity School, the Law School, Peabody, and CSRC), a six week summer  research group on public health literacy (faculty from Peabody, Nursing, Medicine, and CAS participated in developing an instrument for measuring such literacy and jointly writing an article on the topic), and one continuing aspect of the Global Feminisms project.  Many of the grants (listed in the Appendix) provided by the Center have been assigned to graduate students.  So far we have not advertised a general research option, preferring to consider in most instances (with the exception of the Common Moral Dilemmas project, which we initiated) initiatives that come to us unsolicited.  That is an approach that I want to evaluate at the end of this academic year.

     8.  Attention to TA’s and Future Faculty Members.  We bring together two of the Center’s hallmarks -- the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to ethical issues and the importance of teaching in our mission -- in the programs we sponsor for graduate students.  This is particularly evident in the May seminars for graduate students, the dissertation seminars, and the Global Feminisms Collaborative.

On-Going Projects (in addition to special opportunity projects that are limited to one or more occasions in a semester)

     1. Global Feminisms Collaborative.  In the spring of 2006, after Brooke Ackerly finished a book she was working on and completed her tenure review, we spoke of a project that was much on her mind.  It would further her primary research work in a major way, have an impressive international reach, and be thoroughly interdisciplinary with both research and teaching components.  It was also ambitious and complex.  We worked out an arrangement that gave her research support, a course buy-out if she wanted it, and administrative assistance.  She developed a working group of faculty and graduate students from Peabody, CAS, and Divinity, an international network of feminist scholars with a considerable variety of approaches and backgrounds, an agenda of activist-research, team projects, brown bag discussion lunches, and carefully planned conferences.
     In Brooke’s words:  “Global feminisms is an ethical perspective. Global feminisms perceives of ethics as a collective project, attentive to the possibilities for alliance building. It expects self-reflection at all stages of the research project from epistemology to publication. Methodologically, it expects an inclusive understanding of the research subject and expects to be educated and to educate about intersectional experiences of oppression. It is attentive to power and to diasporic and marginalized people. In short, global feminist research practices are ethical practices and they are themselves practices that require ethical reflection.
     ”Global feminisms scholars are engaged in the study of boundaries associated with sex, gender, sexuality, class, race, ability, ethnicity, geography, identity, and membership – using both theoretical and empirical lenses. They are attentive to silence and marginalization, to citizenship politics (including migration, refugees, rights, and participation), to political economy (formal and informal), to society and culture, and to the environment (understood as the places where we live, work, play, and pray). Global feminist scholarship is making important contributions to many fields of study and to many ways of living.”

2.  Dissertation Seminars for Students Writing on Ethics-related Topics.  The Center sponsors and administers each year five or six Dissertation Fellows Seminars with five or six students per group (one of which usually meets during the summer).  Each seminar meets bi-weekly during a semester.   They are led by an experienced graduate student with a strong background in ethics under the direction of Susan Schoenbohm, the Center’s Program Coordinator. Participants are each paid a stipend and agree to finish a chapter or section of their dissertations during the semester and to submit it to the group for advanced reading and then group discussion.  The participants come from a wide variety of departments in CAS and Peabody.  DGS approval is required.   These seminars have been well received, and the discussions are usually lively and probing as participants learn to deal with a variety of topics, methods, and disciplinary terms.
3.  Seminars.  These seminars are for either faculty or graduate students.  They typically have around fifteen participants who receive a stipend in return for a commitment to carry out the assigned projects and readings and to attend all sessions.  They usually last for four or five days and can include invited outside specialists.  This year’s seminars will be on Ethics in Science: Research, Teaching, and Public Outreach (for graduate students in the sciences and planned by a group of students in consultation and with the support of the Center; several members of our science faculties and some outside invitees will make presentations and lead sessions.), and on The Ethics and Pedagogy of Gender and Sexuality, in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and led by Jose Medina.  During this five-day seminar seven faculty members will lead morning sessions attended by approximately 15 graduate students, followed by planning and carrying out topic-relevant, individual projects at the Teaching Center in the afternoon.  Descriptions of seminars in past years are provided in the appendix.

4.  Grants for Curriculum Development.   These grants are given to faculty members who successfully apply to develop new, ethics-related courses.  Approval is required by the relevant department chair and, in some cases, inclusion in a School’s curriculum of regularly offered courses is also required.  Sixteen courses have been approved by the Center and are listed in the appendix.  Seven of those courses have been taught, and nine will be taught between spring, ’09 and spring, ’11.   Ten of the sixteen courses are interdisciplinary with teachers from different departments and/or schools.

5.  Assistant Professor for Applied Ethics (three year appointment, non-tenure track).  Dr. Joan Forry was appointed to this new position in the fall, 2008.  The Center and the Philosophy Department each provide 50% of the position’s compensation.  Dr. Forry will teach three applied ethics courses a year and three other courses that are not necessarily related to applied ethics.  The rationale for this position is based on the fact that the Philosophy Department, due to its make-up and teaching needs, has offered a small number of applied ethics courses each year, although a large majority of the undergraduates will go into professions for which some applied ethics courses would be especially relevant.  Increasing opportunities for students to gain reflective and critical awareness of ethical problems and conflicts is one of the Center’s priorities.  By this appointment, the Philosophy Department has doubled the number of applied ethics courses taught each year.

6.  The Ethics of Teaching.  Since the Center’s second semester of existence and in collaboration with the Center for Teaching, we co-sponsor during the year four lunch programs on a particular theme and with a panel of three faculty members from different departments for each program that addresses an aspect of the theme.  Last year’s theme, for example, was on Technology, Values, and Teaching, and this year’s, What Counts as Evidence and Critical Inquiry in Various Disciplines, with an emphasis on varieties of approach and best practices.  These programs have been well attended and received, and we expect to continue the collaboration.  Our planning sessions with people from the Teaching Center and the preparatory lunches we have with the panelists have been among our most memorable discussions.

7.  Introduction to Ethics.  By sponsoring four additional TA’s for Introduction to Ethics, 105, we have made possible an increase of eighty students who take the course.  We require that these TA’s come from departments other than philosophy; usually they come from Law, Divinity, or Religion. We have had one graduate student from Peabody and one from OGSM. This approach gives these graduate students an opportunity to work with undergraduate students in discussion groups on ethical issues in the TA’s area of special interest.  We make mentoring help available if a TA needs background work on a particular assignment.  This year the Philosophy Department and CAS will support two of the four.

8.  Joint Appointment with the School of Engineering.  For the second year Dr. Forrest Perry has been appointed Special Projects Associate in the Center and Instructor in Electrical Engineering (teaching courses in ethics and computer science and in applied behavioral science).  We and Engineering split Forrest’s compensation 50/50.  In addition to being our webmaster, he works on such special projects as a study group made up of graduate students on ethics and economics, now in its second year.  He initiated this fall in collaboration with the Engineering School, several people from Nashville, and Commons a five part series on energy, sustainability, and the environment, and has helped to energize a justice studies project.  We are working on the possibility that he will work with us in setting up contacts at the Center for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.  That Center, in addition to the Center for Ethics at the University of Melbourne, is interested in some collaborative projects with us (in addition to the 4+1 program).  Forrest is presently working on the possibility of a May seminar in 2010 on engineering and the environment.

9.  The Achievement Gap Program.  Directed by Donna Ford (Peabody) and Gilman Whiting (CAS).  The Center continues as a major co-sponsor with several other entities at Vanderbilt of this important and successful summer program that addresses Black male underachievement by working intensely with Black male children.

10. The Common Moral Problems in the Professions Project.  In collaboration with the Cal Turner Program and the Center for Bio-Medical Ethics and Society.  Co-directors:  Bruce Berry, Josh Perry, Graham Reside. The Center has bought 20% of Josh Perry’s time at the bio-medical center for the last three years as well as provided on-going counsel and encouragement. This multi-year study explores the prevalent moral challenges that confront professionals in medicine, law, business, and the ministry.  Attention to the routine, mundane moral challenges that professional people face might well provide helpful information for the relevant professional schools as well as a more nuanced understanding of some of the major characteristics of life in the United States.  The project has proceeded on the basis of interviews with professionals in the four major fields.  The research and statistical compilations will be completed by July, and the results will be written up during the summer.  The expected report and publication should be a valuable resource to deans and faculties as they consider the importance of addressing specific, ethical issues in their curriculum.  A report on this program concludes the attached appendices.

The Future
     There are presently a variety of possibilities in the hopper for future years.  By the end of January we will have the administrative details of this spring’s programs worked out and ready.  We will then turn to developing on-going program topics and leaders for next year as well as considering new programs.

      The Center is presently on a five and a half year contract that will expire at the end of December, 2010.  In June, 2007 then Provost, Nick Zeppos, gave the Center permission to make commitments through the spring semester of 2011.  Contingent on the recommendations and conclusions of the Review Committee, I would like: a) to appoint this spring a committee from the Center’s Board of Advisors to review all aspects of the Center’s life including the specific programs that we have initiated and sponsored and to make any recommendations they find appropriate; and b) in the fall, in consultation with Board members and others and in concert with recommendations from both review committees, I would like to draw up a five year plan as the Center moves from its initial years of experimentation, exploration, and consolidation to a more established phase of its life.  Such a plan would take advantage of the experiences and lessons provided in the first three years and would make possible long term planning.

A Few Observations
     1.   Is “ethics” a specialization?  This question arises frequently and often takes the form of, ‘I cannot responsibly raise ethical issues in my classes because I am not a specialist in ethics’.  That opinion poses a difficult problem.  We addressed it, for example, in a faculty seminar, An Integrated Approach to Engineering Ethics, in the fall, 2006, by bringing in two specialists on that topic who provided material and guidance on how such issues can be developed in course modules.  While many of the 14 participants reported that they added ethical components in their courses, I noted that they tended to be younger members of the faculty.  We have been told by some members of the science faculty in CAS that our best bet is to work with the students who have a more active interest in ethical issues in the sciences than many faculty members have (I have been very impressed with the initiative and interest on the part of six graduate students in the sciences who are working with us to plan a May seminar on Ethics in Science: Research, Teaching, and Public Outreach, and of course there are many science faculty members who are very interested in ethical issues, are strongly supportive of the students’ effort, and will participate on panels in sessions of the seminar).  Jim Bradford commented to me that many firms that come to OGSM to interview job candidates are up front with their concern for ethical commitment and alertness on the interviewees’ part and that that is a change from a few years ago.  I believe that the trend he notes is evident in many segments of our society as considerations of positive and negative values comes to the fore in connection with the environment, demographic change, technological revolutions, health care, professional responsibility, and many other issues.
     Generational differences appear significantly, I am told, in several schools and departments when questions arise about integrating ethical considerations into mainline courses.  I have no statistical evidence to support these observations, but our experience bears out at least the likelihood that a generational divide has a bearing on readiness to adapt courses to include examination of relevant ethical problems and possibilities.  We have not factored in the importance of generational differences in a systematic way as we plan our programs, and I believe that is an area that needs more attention

2.  Integration of ethical issues into mainstream courses and those taught by senior faculty is important.  When an ethics course is required in a program largely due to outside pressure and is also sidelined as a course for reduced credit that is often taught by a junior person, a message is sent: This course and its subject matter do not have major importance.  Does this message carry over into people’s professional lives?  Does it have the effect for all practical purposes of setting ethical considerations outside of ‘serious’ disciplinary knowledge and practice.  I do not know, but I expect that these are questions we need to look at with some care.  It might be the case that dividing knowledge and practice from careful attention to ethical problems and their consequences – or leaving their integration to personal preference – is an issue that we should address in a more sustained way than we have.

3.   Multiple commitments and limited time to meet them define a significant problem in motivating people to undertake projects the importance of which for their professional work and lives they affirm.  In most cases when there is a significant commitment of time and energy, as is the case in some of the four or five day May seminars, a small stipend makes a world of difference in the faculty member’s willingness to attend all sessions, do the homework, and carry out associated projects.  Such stipends also carry the message that what the faculty member or student is doing is important and valued. 

4.  I have been impressed by how much desire there is on the part of faculty and students for careful exploration of shared, disciplinary and multi-disciplinary issues that are centered by ethical problems and questions.  Once they have been motivated enough to turn out and engage they often comment, as I frequently hear, on a quality of interaction and enrichment they want but miss in the press of their habitual duties and routines. 
5.  I am writing this final paragraph after the decision to close the Center.  Everything else in this report was written preparatory to the planned third year review in January.  The attached appendices lack reports on Global Feminisms Collaborative, research grants awarded by the Center, and the many events that the Center helped sponsor but in which it did not play a planning role.  Those reports would have been written during the two weeks before Christmas.  We were unable to spend the time to make formatting more imaginative and pleasing.




Braxton, John- Professor of Higher Education, Peabody, Dept. of Learning, Policy and Organization
Churchill, Larry- Ann Geddes Stahlman Professor of Medicine, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society
Clayton, Ellen- Rosalind E. Franklin Professor of Genetic and Health Policy; Professor of Pediatrics; Professor of Law; Director, The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society
Conklin, Beth- Associate Professor of Anthropology
Cornfield, Dan- Director, Center for Nashville Studies; Professor of Sociology
Dalhouse, Mark- Director, Office of Active Citizenship and Student Service
Dever, Carolyn- Interim Dean, College of Arts and Science; Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies
Dobson, Frank- Director, Black Cultural Center, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
Heyneman, Stephen- Professor of Educational Policy, Peabody, LPO
Hudnut-Beumler, James- Dean, Divinity School; Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History
Johnson, Robert (Bobby)- Head Football Coach
Johnson, Carl- Professor of Biological Sciences
Lachs, John- Centennial Professor of Philosophy
Moran, Beverly- Professor of Law, Professor of Sociology
Nelson, Dana- Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt Professor of English
Overholser, Knowles (Art)- Senior Associate Dean, Engineering; Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering
Pace, James- Professor of Nursing
Rose, Michael- Associate Professor of Composition, Blair
Rubin, Edward- Dean, Law School; John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law.
Schall, Jeff- Ingram Professor of Neuroscience; Director of Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience
Sharpley-Whiting, Tracy- Director of African American and Diaspora Studies; Professor of French and African American and Diaspora Studies
Seigenthaler, John- Freedom Forum Center
Snarr, Melissa- Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society, Divinity School
Tlumak, Jeffrey- Chair, Department of Philosophy; Associate Professor of Philosophy
Victor, Bart- Cal Turner Professor of Moral Leadership -  OGSM

Curriculum Development

     In the spring semester, 2006 the Center helped a group of students, in cooperation with HOD, to develop a course in Corporate Social Responsibility.  The success of that course and the degree of student interest in the topic encouraged us to continue to support it in the spring of 2007 and 2008.  Our support came by means of funds for the course instructor, an advanced graduate student under the continued sponsorship of HOD.

     In the spring semester, 2007 the Center sponsored its first multi-disciplinary course, Democracy and Commitment, led by Rob Talissse (Philosophy), John Goldbert (Law), John Waymark (Economics), and Brooke Ackerly (Political Science).  We provided modest summer stipends for two of the leaders and funds to bring to campus four of the authors whose work was assigned in the class.  These visitors conducted a class, met with students, and gave public presentations.
     During the same semester, the Center co-sponsored with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences a new course on Environmental Ethics by paying for a TA, Patricia Conway (graduate student in Community Action and Research).  She also worked with the Center to develop and inter-school program on global warming.

     In the fall semester, 2007 the Center sponsored Human Rights in Literary Imagination, taught by Sarah Passino (English).  Center funds made possible an interactive course with students and the local organization for homeless people as well as a privately published volume of biographical essays by several homeless people written in collaboration with the students in the class, “Homeless Power: Our Stories of Survival and Struggle.” 
     During the same semester the Center sponsored Values in the Environment, taught by David Wood and Beth Conklin and with participation by six other faculty members.  We made funds available for visiting speakers and for summer research for selected graduate students who took the course.

     Because of the success of the previous courses, in the fall of  2007 the Center called for applications for two types of grants, one for development of interdisciplinary, ethics related courses and the other for individually taught ethics related courses.

     The following grants were awarded for interdisciplinary course development:

          1. Global Citizenship, Marshall Eakin (History), Brian Heuser (LPO), and Eugene LeBoeuf (Civil and Environmental Engineering), in conjunction with the VISAGE initiative.  Spring and Summer, 2008.
          2, Global Justice and Responsibility, Rob Talisse and John Goldberg with John Waymark.  Spring, 2008.
          3. Air War and its Aftermath, Gerald Figal and Sara Eigen. Spring, 2009
          4. Immigration, Justice, Race, and Wealth Disparities.  A three course series: spring, 2009, spring, 2010, and spring, 2011. Beverly Moran (Law, Sociology), Carol Swain (Political Science, Law), Idit Dobbs-Weinstein (Philosophy).
          5. Ethics of Race and Sexuality, José Medina (Philosophy) and Ellen Armour (Religion).  Fall, 2009.
     The following grants were awarded for individually taught courses:
          1. Writing and Political Resistance, Idit Dobbs-Weinstein, spring, 2009.
          2. Ethics and Animals, Kelly Oliver, fall, 2009.

Approval by Department Chairs is required in all cases.


The Center sponsors a number of seminars on selected topics. One type of seminar is for faculty and another is for graduate students. Typically faculty seminars happen after graduation. They are led by two or more faculty members and include active, project-oriented participation by approximately fifteen faculty members. The leaders and participants receive summer stipends. The graduate student seminars are usually planned and led by a faculty member in consultation with graduate students. Typically, fifteen to eighteen graduate students attend. The leaders and participants receive summer stipends.

Faculty seminars

May 2006: “Teaching the Hard Stuff” (One session, 4 1/2 days long)
The purpose of this seminar was to explore best practices for skillfully handling difficult, controversial, or hot-button topics and issues that intentionally or unintentionally arise in classes.
Leaders: Kate Daniels (English), Charles Scott (CFE and Philosophy) and Susan Schoenbohm (CFE and Philosophy)
[25 participants]
Departmental Affiliations: African American Diaspora Studies, Center for Biomedical Ethics, Classics, English, HOD, LPO, Office of the Chaplain, Philosophy, Physics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology, Teaching and Learning, German and Slavic Languages, Women’s and Gender Studies


May 2007: “Teaching the Hard Stuff” (Two sessions, each two days long)
Purpose: See above
Leader: Brooke Ackerly (Political Science)
[17 participants in each session]
Departmental Affiliations: African American Diaspora Studies, American and Southern Studies, Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Blair, Chemistry, Dean’s Office, East-Asian Studies, Electrical Engineering/Computer Science, English, German, HOD, Jewish Studies, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, Teaching and Learning, Theater


October 2006: “An Integral Approach to Engineering Ethics” (One session, 4 days long)
This seminar addresses ways to incorporate ethical studies and considerations into existing engineering courses.
Leaders: Nancy Tuana (Penn State Philosophy and Rock Ethics Institute Director), Andy Lau (Penn State Engineering Dept.)
Departmental Affiliations: Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Physics and Astronomy
[19 participants]


Summer 2007: “Public Health Literacy”
This seminar had three goals: to complete a co-authored article defining public health literacy; to develop a survey to measure public health literacy; and to design a course that would teach public health literacy from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Leader: Arleen Tuchman, History and Director Medicine Health and Society Program
Departmental affiliations: History, Sociology, French and Italian, Peabody, Nursing, Medical School
[6 participants]


April/May 2008: “Considering Animals: A Retreat at Dyer Observatory”
This seminar brought together faculty from Vanderbilt and other universities to explore the ethical, legal, political, religious, scientific and other connections that humans have with non-humans, and the prospects for their expansion and transformation.
[12 participants]
Departmental affiliation: English, Religion, Philosophy, Anthropology, History


May 2008: “Technology, Commonweal, and the Transformation of Humanity”
Technological advances over the coming decades – pharmaceutical, bio-electronic, and genetic – promise to transform people in ways that could destabilize or even rupture the common endowments that define us as human. This seminar brought scholars from many disciplines together with the purpose of studying and discussing the implications of technologically modified people for society and for the very notion of humanity. The questions this seminar explored were inherently multidisciplinary in nature, bringing together the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as medicine, law, engineering, and public policy.  The goals in this seminar were to stimulate interest in these issues that will carry over in some form into your teaching and/or research, to compare relevant knowledge from different areas of research, and to bring a broad variety of perspectives into direct contact with each other.
Leaders: Michael Bess (History), Jonathan Gilligan (Earth and Environmental Sciences)
[19 participants]
Departmental Affiliations: Blair, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Chemistry, Communication Studies, English, Engineering, History, Law, Philosophy, Psychology

Graduate Student Seminars

May 2007: “Teaching the Hard Stuff” (2 sessions, 4 1/2 days each, 17 participants each)
Leader: Mark Schoenfield, English
Departmental Affiliations: Anthropology, Community, Research and Action (CRA), English, French and Italian, History, Latin American Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, Teaching and Learning

May 2008: “Pedagogy of the Difficult”
Leader: Mark Schoenfield (English)
Departmental Affiliations:  Anthropology, English, History, Philosophy, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, Teaching and Learning
[17 participants]
“Teaching  Difficult Texts”
This seminar built on the “Teaching the Hard Stuff” seminar and focused on best practices for teaching texts that raise controversial and “hot-button” topics.
Leader: Mark Schoenfield (English)
Departmental Affiliations: English, French and Italian, Germanic and Slavic Languages, HOD, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese

Projected May 2009: “The Ethics and Pedagogy of Gender and Sexuality”
Leaders: Jose Medina (Philosophy), Ellen Armour (Religion), Allison Pingree (Center for Teaching), Susan Schoenbohm (Philosophy and the Center for Ethics)
“The Ethics and Pedagogy of Gender and Sexuality” will be a one-week interdisciplinary seminar for faculty and graduate students, whose primary goal would be to increase theoretical sophistication on ethical issues in relation to gender and sexuality, and to explore multidisciplinary approaches. The audience for this workshop will be faculty and graduate students who plan to teach courses informed by Gender Theory and Sexuality Studies, as well as those who could benefit from having pedagogical strategies available to deal effectively with gender and sexuality issues in a classroom setting (even if the class in question is not on this topic). The seminar will be a forum for exploring the ethics of sexuality and gender in relation to college teaching. We will discuss the teaching of gender and sexuality from a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives.

There is an increasing interest in the ethical questions that are formulated and explored in the interdisciplinary study of gender and sexuality: e.g. gender discrimination, global women’s issues, hate crimes, hate speech, homophobia, intersex and transgender issues, prostitution and sexual tourism, sexism, and sexual abuse, to name a few. A seminar that focuses on the ethical content of these questions is a unique opportunity for the collaboration and mutual enrichment of teachers who want to address these questions in their classes in a productive way. The goals of this seminar include reflecting on interdisciplinary methodology and exploring effective pedagogical strategies for the teaching of gender and sexuality across disciplinary boundaries.

This 5-day seminar will feature six (three-hour long) plenary sessions led by interdisciplinary teams of Vanderbilt faculty working on gender and sexuality. Starting on the second day, in the afternoons participants will divide into small-group sessions lasting ninety minutes. In the small-group sessions participants will have an opportunity to develop their own projects and to relate the readings, presentations, and discussions of the plenary session to their particular interests. In the plenary sessions the faculty facilitators will be in charge of presenting the topic and of leading discussion. More detailed information about this format is provided in the tentative schedule that follows.

“Ethics in Science”
This proposed seminar was largely designed by a committee of graduate students from various science fields who are interested in exploring ethical issues that arise in teaching and conducting research in science fields. Attached is a tentative syllabus for the 4 day seminar.

Ethics-Related Dissertation Seminars

These seminars are designed to allow students in many fields to work together on chapters in their dissertations and discuss them from a range of ethical perspectives. A call for participants is issued each semester for the next semester’s program. Students who apply are asked to submit a précis of their dissertations and outline what they see to be the main ethical issues and implications of their work. In this context, we allow considerable latitude in the interpretation of the meaning of “ethics.” Students are selected for the program on a first-come, first served basis in the context of the Center’s desire to encourage multi-disciplinary engagement in each group. The number of seminars that we have sponsored from semester to semester since the Fall of ’06 has varied from one to three. Each seminar has between five and seven members. DGS approval is required, and each participant agrees to complete a chapter or major section during the semester and to attend all sessions. Each meeting is focused by the work of one of the participants which is read in advance. Participants submit two or three substantial questions to the presenter, also in advance. The groups typically meet on a bi-weekly basis for two-hour sessions throughout the semester. The facilitator of the seminars is an advanced graduate student, typically from the department of philosophy, under the direction of Susan Schoenbohm, the Center’s Program Coordinator. Participants receive a twelve-hundred dollar stipend and a certificate designating them as a Vanderbilt University Center for Ethics Dissertation Fellow.

Dissertation Writers Fellows

Fall 2006

Chaudhuri, Soma (Sociology): Tempest in a Teapot: An Analysis of Witch Hunts in the Tea Plantations of North Bengal (1980-2006)
Crites, Joshua (Philosophy): Liberalism and Nulticulturalism: A Philosophical Dilemma
Hewitt, Lyndi (Sociology): The Politics of Transnational Feminist Discourse: Framing Across Differences, Building Solidarities
Kim, Jeongoh (English): A Sense of Place and the Uncertainty of the Self

Spring 2007

Bell, Jason (Philosophy): Critical Loyalty as Practical Ethics: A Roycean Approach
Chaudhuri, Soma (Sociology): (see above)
Edwards, Daneel (Peabody, Teaching and Learning): Literacy as a Cultural and Ethical         Value and Imperative
Foley, Jennifer (Anthropology): When Worlds Collide: Understanding the effects of Maya-Teotichuacan Interaction on Maya Ethnic Identity and Community
Freedman, Darcy (HOD/CRA): Politics of Food Access in Food Insecure Communities
Hewitt, Lyndi: (see above)
Inman, Natalie (History): Networking and Negotiation on the Frontier: A comparative Study of Strategic Decision-Making in Cherokee, Chickasaw, and White Families in their Contest for Regional Dominance, 1700-1840
Lowe, Charmaine (Teaching/Learning): Addressing the Retention of Latina English Language Learners in Community-Based Educational Programs
Newell, James (Religion): Experiencing Qawwali: Reconsidering the Cultural Interplay of Music and Religion
Packard, Josh (Religion): Organizational Structure, Religious Belief, and Resistance: The     Emerging Church
Perry, Forrest (Philosophy): Reconstructing Freedom: An Inquiry Into The Idea that the Free Market Makes People Free
Robalino, Gladys (Spanish/Portugese): Juan Ruiz de Alarcón: Behind the Mask of Silence
Robinson, Shirleen (English): Beholden: Dispossessions, Obligations, and Desires in 19th Century African American Literatures about Black Childhood (1836-1900)
Sanders, George (Sociology): ‘Late’ Capital: Negotiating the New American Way of Death
Sapra, Sonalini (Political Science): Fields of Activism: How Do Discourses Vary Based on the International Institution Being Lobbied?
Talley, Heather (Sociology): Face Work: Surgical, Technical, and Cultural Interventions on Facial ‘Disfigurement’
Terrell, Teresa (Sociology): Community Participation in Neighborhood Organizations: An Investigation of Local Participation in Four Inner-city Neighborhoods
Woods, Laurie (Sociology): Prosecutorial Discretion in Hate Crime Cases in California: A Case for Convictability

Summer, ‘07

Foley, Jennifer (Anthropology): see above
Hewitt, Lyndi (Sociology): see above
Robalino, Gladys (Spanish/Portugese): see above
Sapra, Sonalini (Political Science): see above
Talley, Heather (Sociology): see above

Fall, ‘07

Dault, David (Religion): A Covert Magisterium: Theology, Textuality, and the Question of Scripture
Eberhart, Timothy (Religion): Take and Eat: Substantiating the Body of Christ as a Holistic Way-of-Life-Together
*Edmonds, Jeff (Philosophy): Power and Pure Experience: A Metaphysics of Education
Faber, Kenneth (Philosophy): The Totality, The Individual, and their Relation
Fanning, Joe (Religion): Genetic Counseling and the Spirit of Communication
Fortes, Mayra (Spanish/Portugese): Problematic Borders: Hybridity and Identity in Chicano and Mexican Literature
Freedman, Darcy (HOD/CRA): see above
Graydon, Ben (English): Branded: Product Narratives and American Fiction
Han, Lihong (Economics): Income Inequality and International Producitvity Difference: A Sequential Approach
Jefferson, Lee (Religion): The Image of Christ the Miracle Worker in Early Christian           Catacombs and Sarcophagi
Loevy, Katharine (Philosophy): Life Beyond the Limits of Ethics: Hegel, Levinas, Butler
Newman, Harmony (Sociology): Institutional Construction of Risk: An Analysis of Breastfeeding Discourses
Osipian, Ararat (LPO): Corruption In Higher Education: Methodological Approaches and Investigative Techniques
Perkins, Dave (Religion): Selling the Sacred: The Commercialization of Contemporary        Christian Worship Music
Sheehan, Jeff (Religion): Ordinary People: An Ethnographic Portrait of a Black Baptist       Congregation’s Faithful Performance of Religion
Tanner-Smith, Emily (Sociology): Pubertal Development and Substance use Among Adolescent Girls: The Influence of Body Satisfaction, Ethnicity, and Race
Taylor, Laura (Religion): Homeland (In)security: Boundaries, Identities, and Difference in Theological Thought
Tempesti, Tommaso (Economics): Three Essays on Trade and Income Distribution
Wang, Hihong (Sociology): “I Love You, So I Chose Not To Be With You”: Transnational Parenting Among Chinese Immigrants
Woods, Laurie (Sociology): Prosecutorial Discretion in hate Crime Cases in California: A Case for Convictability

Spring, ‘08

Attanasi, Katy (Religion): Pentacostalism, HIV/AIDS, and South African Women’s    Burdens
Dmatheuszik, Deanna (History): The Angel Syndrome: Elizabeth Fry and the Role of             Gender, Religion and Class in Public and Private Spaces
Edmonds, Jeff (Philosophy): see above
Koudelkova, Helen (Philosophy): Turning the Soul: On the Merits and Limits of Socratic     Education
Lukasik, Jenna (Political Science): The Inter-Branch Struggle Over Tort Reform: TestinA Separation of Powers Model in the State Context”
Moultrie, Monique (Religion): A Womanist and Cultural Analysis of Black Women’s             Sexual Decision Making
Russell, Carrie Archie (Political Science): Race, Politics and Poverty in Tennessee: Antebellem Foundations and Modern Manifestations
Van Hooser, Sarah (HOD/CRA): Freedom Isn’t Free: Women’s Perspectives on Freedom in the Context of Healing and Community

Summer, ‘08

Hansen, Sarah (Philosophy): Zoê, Bios and the Lingualisms of Biopower
Loevy, Katharine (Philosophy): see above
Osipian, Ararat (LPO): see above
Sheehan, Jeff (Religion): see above
Wade, Jonathan (Spanish/Portugese): Portugese Nationalism in a Castillian Costume:          Language, Literature, and Politics on the Iberian Peninsula from 1580-1640
Wang, Chih-Wei (Economics): Commodity Prices: Evidence, Theory and Monetary Policy Implications

Fall, ‘08

Attanasi, Katy (Religion): see above
Anderson, Jennifer Ogg (Political Science): Prime Time Politics: The Effects of War
Violence in Television News
Childress, Sarah (English): Document and Documentary: Intersubjectivity in “American
Avant-garde” Film Practice
Dault, David (Religion): see above
Donoso, Juan Carlos (Political Science): A Means to an End: Judicial Independence,
Corruption and the Rule of Law in Latin America
Hoffer, Lauren Wood (English): “That Inevitable Woman”: Sympathy and the Female
Companion in Victorian Fiction
Lykins, Chad (LPO/Philosophy): Scientific Research in Education: Ethical and
Epistemological Considerations
McCullough, Matt (Religion): “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”: American Religion,
National Identity and the Spanish-American War
McGarrah-Sharp, Mindy (Religion): Understanding Crises and Repair in Intercultural
Relationships: A Theological, Psychological, and Post-Colonial Analysis
Meyers, Coby (LPO): Teacher Pay-for-Performance in Texas: Teacher Roles
Throughout the GEEG Process
Morrell, John (English): The Dialectic of Climate Change: Apocalypse, Utopia, and the
American Environmental Imagination
Nesler, Miranda (English): Performing Silence, Performing Speech: Genre and Gender
 in Early Modern Drama
Proper, Eve (LPO): The Effect of Parental Donations on Legacy Admissions at Selective
Institutions of Higher Education
Trafton, Tamara (Economics): The Effect of a Catalogue Strategy on Charitable Giving

Protocol for Facilitators and Participants
in the VU Center for Ethics Dissertation Writers Fellows Program

This protocol has developed in collaboration with participants in other of our Dissertation Writers Groups. We hope that it will help ensure the smooth functioning of the group and prevent problems from arising that might get in the way of all participants having a positive experience. The VUCE will distribute email copies of this protocol to all participants before their group meetings begin.

            There will be a designated facilitator for each of the groups. In addition to functioning as a regular participant and taking his or her turn to present material for the group to read, the facilitator shall do the following:

(NB: Of course, the other group members will share these latter four responsibilities.)

After each meeting, the facilitator shall also report back in person or by email to Susan Schoenbohm, the Center’s Program Coordinator about how the meeting went, how the members of the group are doing, and whether there are any problems that need to be addressed. Other members are also invited and encouraged to contact the Program Coordinator directly at anytime there appears to be a problem that is not being effectively managed in the group. We consider it the entire group’s responsibility to assure that the group functions in a manner that more than adequately meets their expectations.

The First Meeting
As stated above, the group’s first meeting will have three main tasks. First, the group should go carefully over this protocol to make sure everyone understands what is expected. Secondly, the group should decide on a schedule for the group for the duration of the semester, the order in which participants will present their work, and the dates and times the group will meet. If a change in the schedule is desired by a presenter, s/he should contact the facilitator at once and see whether they can switch dates with another participant. If not, that person is responsible for presenting on the original date. Once set, the facilitator should send a copy of the group’s schedule to the Center Program Coordinator. Thirdly, the précis and statement of the ethical dimensions of their dissertations that the group members will have circulated to each other in advance of the meeting will form the basis for the discussion of the meaning of “ethics” at the group’s first meeting(s). Each group member should also feel free at this first meeting to ask other group members any preliminary, clarifying questions based on their respective précis. The discussion at this first meeting will provide a backdrop for the semester’s further discussions of individuals’ work.

            The person who is first scheduled to present shall briefly introduce his topic at the first, organizational group meeting. He should also specify the kinds of comments and questions that he finds most useful to his work, so that the other group members may tailor their comments and questions to his needs. Then, he should electronically circulate his chosen chapter/section to the other group members at least 5 (preferably more) days before the meeting at which he will present. This enables group members to have plenty of time to read the material, edit portions of it for spelling and syntax and develop two or three substantive, ethically related questions regarding its content.

            No less than 2 days before the meeting (which means, for example, by 9 a.m. on Tues. if the meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thurs.), the other members will submit by email their 2-3 questions to the presenter so that he can reflect on them before the meeting. These questions should involve critical thought and should each focus on some important, ethically related issue in the chapter/section. After these questions are submitted to the presenter, s/he can, if necessary, ask the submitter for further clarification of the submitted questions. In order better to prepare for the discussion to follow and to help ensure that the ethical dimensions of the work and of the questions are being addressed, presenters will meet with the facilitator 2 days before his or her presentation. This meeting should only last a half hour or so.

Regular meetings should last approximately 2 hrs. Probably the best protocol to follow in the meetings is for the presenter, if she wishes, to open the meeting with a few introductory, orienting remarks, lasting no more than 5 minutes. Then she should proceed to respond to the questions that the other members have submitted, beginning, perhaps, with the question that she holds to be most interesting or important to her work. Other participants should feel relatively free to join in the discussion of any other participant’s questions, bearing in mind the meeting’s time limits. The number of questions that the presenter addresses will obviously depend upon how long s/he spends per question. Probably, the presenter should choose one question from each member to address for a first round, before she begins to answer second questions. This ensures that at least one of each member’s questions is verbally addressed by the presenter at each meeting. Since the meetings are two hours in length (minus the introductory remarks of the presenter as well as those of the next presenter --see below), this allows something like 12 minutes per first question. Thus, the presenter should be careful to respond to at least one of every other member’s questions. The facilitator will also help monitor this process to ensure that every member has at least one of her/his questions addressed by the presenter. If the presenter does not address some questions in the meeting, she can always address them with the submitter outside the meeting. Submitters of questions may also choose to write out these further questions as well as comments and suggestions for the presenter and give these to the presenter.

The point of these meetings is to focus on the ethical implications of the presenter’s work. The following guidelines should clarify both presenter’s and other participants’ responsibilities before and during the meetings:
Responsibilities of presenter
1.When introducing your topic, reference specifically what you believe to be the most important ethical implications of your work.
2. When responding to the questions presented by the rest of the group, locate your answers specifically in an ethical context, either by referencing your own understanding of the ethical implications of the question or by talking about how the question might have broadened or shifted your understanding of the ethical implications of your work.
3. Although it will be important to explain more generally the details, structure, and methods of the chapter you will be presenting, at least 50% of the discussion should be directly focused on ethical issues.
4. The presenter should use the last few minutes of his time to sum up the substance of the ethical implications that have come out of the discussion.
Responsibilities of other participants
1. When writing your questions for the presenter, explicitly reference and explain the ethical dimensions of your question.
2. Although it may be necessary and helpful to ask clarifying questions about the purpose or structure of the dissertation project, most questions should be directed towards the ethical dimensions of the work.

The final minutes of each meeting should be given to the person who will present at the next meeting, to briefly introduce her chapter/section and, perhaps, alert group members to the particular kinds of questions and commentary that s/he will find most helpful. Some people prefer questions that broaden the scope of an inquiry; some people prefer more critical questions about some aspect of the thought or data analysis in the chapter, etc.

While we understand that there may be some absences that occur for legitimate reasons, it is vital to the functioning of the groups that participants attend group meetings. If a participant is late for or misses more than one meeting, there may be a deduction in her stipend.

Participants are requested always to maintain a respectful attitude to all other participants. This means that everyone should practice active listening as well as speaking skills, be careful not to monopolize the conversation, and make sure that s/he has understood what someone else has said in attempting to respond to it. Your group may want to set some discussion ground rules in advance of the first presentation.

Dissertation Writers Group Announcement, Spring ‘08

*To all Chairs of Departments in Humanities, Social Sciences, Peabody and Department of Religion, from Susan Schoenbohm, Program Coordinator, Vanderbilt University Center for Ethics (

The Center for Ethics would again like to draw your attention to the following opportunity for dissertation stage students in your department. We are presently accepting applications to participate in our Fall ’08 Dissertation Writers Fellows program for students in the humanities and social sciences. We will sponsor and supervise one or more groups of up to six Fellows during the fall semester, ’08. They will convene regularly during the semester to read, edit and discuss the ethical implications of each other’s work. One aim of these groups will be for the participants to finish at least one chapter or major section of a chapter in their dissertations by semester’s end.  The participants in these groups will receive the designation, Vanderbilt Center for Ethics Dissertation Fellow and an honorarium of $1200 for their semester’s work. We expect to continue to sponsor these groups in future semesters. The only requirement of applicants, in addition to agreement from you as their Director of Graduate Studies that they may participate, is that their dissertation topics are ethics-related. We are thinking of “ethics-related” in the broad sense of referring to topics that address issues and problems that are significant for the quality of people’s lives. This semester, 20 graduate students were involved in this program. We would be happy to provide contact names of previous student participants to prospective participants, if that would be helpful.    
            To apply, students should email or send to me ( the title and short précis of their dissertation project, a description of its ethical focus, and a brief letter of introduction and support from their departmental DGS or advisor. We will begin accepting applications immediately. The application period will be closed at 4:00 p.m., Friday, May 2. We will notify applicants shortly thereafter.  
            We would appreciate your notification of those graduate students in your department who might be interested in participating in these groups. The groups that the Center has supported in previous semesters have worked very well, and the participants have given us very positive feedback about their experiences. Previous participants in these groups would be happy to discuss their experiences with you. Please contact me if you would like more information.   Thank you!

*And to all AA’s to send to the dissertation-stage graduate students in their respective departments:

The Center for Ethics would like draw your attention to the following opportunity. We are presently accepting applications from dissertation-stage graduate students in the humanities and social sciences to participate in two (or more) dissertation writers groups of up to six students that will convene during the spring semester ‘08. The groups will be interdisciplinary but selected so that participant interests have some overlap. They will convene regularly during the semester to read, edit and discuss the ethical implications of each other’s work. One of the aims of these groups will be for the participants to finish at least one chapter or major section of a chapter in their dissertations by semester’s end.  The participants in these groups will receive the designation, Vanderbilt Center for Ethics Dissertation Fellow and an honorarium of $1200 for their semester’s work. We expect to continue to sponsor these groups in future semesters.
            To apply, students should email or send to me ( the title and a short précis of their dissertation project, a description of its ethical focus, and a brief letter of introduction and support from their respective departmental DGS. We will begin accepting applications immediately. The application period will close at 4:00 p.m., Friday, May 2. We will notify applicants shortly thereafter.  
           The groups that the Center has supported in the past have worked very well, and the participants have given us very positive feedback about their experiences. Please contact me if you would like more information.   Thank you!

Ethics and Teaching Lunch Program Series

In collaboration with the Center for teaching, the Center for Ethics plans and sponsors annually four lunch programs (where lunch is provided) for Vanderbilt faculty, graduates students and the occasional member of the community. Typically the program consists of two or three panelists each of whom gives a short presentation that is designed to stimulate discussion from those attending. Planners from the two Centers meet with the panelists before the program to discuss together the issues that will guide the presentations. These programs have been consistently well attended and the discussion lively.

Fall 2006
Theme: “The Ethics of Teaching”
Thematic: We asked the panelists to address the question of the primary values that guide their teaching, the ways in which they communicate these values to their students, and the kinds of conflicts that typically arise for them in their attempts to communicate these values.
Sept. 27: Dan Cornfield, Sociology; Kim Lomis, Medical School
Oct. 24: Michael Bess (History); Molly Miller (Earth and Mineral Science)
[approximately 30 attendees]

Spring 2007
January 29
Theme: “Values at Work in Teaching”
Thematic: A continuation of the above. We asked panelists to address the questions: what values guide your teaching, and in what ways do you communicate these values to your students? What are some of the conflicts that you encounter in your attempts to communicate these values?
Panelists: Richard Haglund (Physics and Astronomy); Carol Swain (Political Science)
[35 attendees]

March 19
Theme: “The Effects of Economic Factors on Our Teaching”
Thematic: Many who pursue an academic career are quick to point out that money was/is not a primary motivating factor in that pursuit. What, then, do we make of the fact that for many students, the desire to prepare themselves for a lucrative career is a primary motivating factor as they move through college and out into the "real world"?  How do economic concerns color their--and their parents--attitudes toward the classes they choose, the majors they declare, and their expectations about grades? What tensions arise in the classroom and in faculty offices when those economic concerns clash with our pedagogical values?  How do graduate student instructors negotiate the deepening chasm between the stipends they receive and the salaries they're likely to earn, and the financial reality and goals of their undergraduate students?
Panelists: Kate Daniels (Dean’s Office, English); Richard Pitt (Sociology)
[33 attendees]

Fall 2007/Spring 2008
Overall Theme: “Technology, Values and Teaching”

Oct. 4, ‘07
Theme: “Pedagogy, Plagiarism, and Computer Technologies”
Thematic: This panel discussion explored the pedagogical uses and limitations of Plagiarism Detection Technologies (PDTs). The internet has put vast amounts of information at student’s fingertips, making it easier than ever to locate resources for academic assignments.  There is rising concern, however, that this greater access to information is leading to increasing incidents of student plagiarism.  PDTs (e.g.,, are tools that instructors can use to help detect and combat internet plagiarism by filtering assignments through some text-matching procedure.  Vanderbilt has recently adopted at PDT called Safe Assign, which is integrated into OAK, Vanderbilt’s Blackboard course management system. Yet these technologies are no substitute for good teaching, and many institutions have questioned the use of PDTs because of concerns about student privacy and copyright infringement.  Do PDTs incite, what some scholars have called, “a culture of suspicion” on campus? How might this technology undermine the various aspects of learning that often take place around written assignments, including that of helping the student to distinguish his or her own ideas and words from those of others? Furthermore, what role do instructors play in informing students of the definitions of plagiarism and their use of this technology to check student assignments?  What is the proper role for these technologies? 
Panelists: Melinda Brown, Instructional Coordinator, Vanderbilt University Libraries; Cindy Franco, OAK Manager; Michelle Sulikowski, Senior Lecturer, Chemistry and Director of Education for the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology.
[27 attendees]

Nov. 7, ‘07
Theme: Laptops in Classrooms? Pedagogical Pros and Cons
Thematic: There are a variety of practical and pedagogical reasons for students to use laptops in our classrooms, from taking notes on the material presented, to viewing course related media, to complicated problem solving.  However, many students use laptops in our classrooms for other reasons, such as surfing, chatting and emailing.  When do these non-academic uses move from being pesky distractions to harmful disturbances that impair the learning environment?  Recently, in response to students’ misuse of laptops and other technologies in their classrooms, the Blair School of Music has instituted a policy banning the use of all electronic devices (laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, etc) from large lecture halls during class time.  Conversely, the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt issues each of its students a laptop upon entry into the program and requires them to use it in both the classroom and the laboratory. What are the advantages and disadvantages of such policies?
Panelists: Duco Jansen, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Vanderbilt School of Engineering; Jim Lovensheimer, Assistant Professor of Musicology, Music Literature and History, Blair School of Music
[20 attendees]

February 13th, ’08
Theme: “Teaching in a Digital Age”
Thematic: This workshop explored some of the challenges and opportunities provided by technology and the students who use it. According to a recent YouTube video, a student today will read 2300 web pages and 1281 Facebook profiles this year, and 8 books. She will write 42 pages for class assignments this semester, and over 500 pages of email. Having grown up immersed in technologies such as the Internet, iPods, PDAs, and cell phones, most of today’s undergraduates are “digital natives” and so enter our classrooms with different experiences, expectations and learning styles than previous generations of students. Many of today’s web technologies can be powerful tools for creating effective, engaging learning environments, yet some argue that the use of such technologies in the classroom is problematic in various ways. For example, handling different levels of technological expertise or different access to technological devices on the part of different students may be challenging, as may a faculty member’s own skill and comfort level with various technologies. To what extent are faculty responsible for learning about and using these new technologies, and to what extent should they (or should they not) coax students away from technology for certain purposes, such as increasing their attention spans, introducing different modes of learning, or just simply reading pages from a book?
Facilitators: Jeff Johnston, Assistant Director, CFT; Charles Scott, Director, Center for Ethics
Panelists: Patricia Armstrong, Assistant Director, Center for Teaching; Jay Clayton, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English; Matt Hall, Assistant Vice Chancellor for ITS
[17 attendees]

April 1st, 2008
Theme: “The Mediated Classroom: Ways That Computer and Other Technologies Are Transforming the Space of Communication and Relationships”
Thematic: New computer technologies are profoundly changing the ways in which we communicate and relate to one another.  Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and virtual worlds such as Second Life enable us to create communal spaces and connect with like-minded individuals a world away.  Yet we also may risk losing certain dimensions of communication and community if fewer of our exchanges are actually face to face.  How can we make the most of these synchronous and asynchronous technologies and still maintain a true community of scholars?  What are the implications of these changes on our classroom teaching?
Panelists: Jonathan Gilligan, Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences; John Sloop, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Science and Professor, Department of Communication Studies
[21 attendees]


Fall 2008/Spring 2009
Overall Theme: “Evidence and Evidence-Based Teaching”

Sept. 23, ‘08
Theme: “Teaching and Evidence”
Thematic: In this session, panelists and other participants discussed what constitutes evidence in a variety of fields of inquiry. Panelists opened the session by addressing the following questions: How do you approach students whose beliefs are directly challenged by some of the evidence in the field? What kind of assignments do you give to students to help them develop their understanding of the nature and use of evidence? What do you consider to be some of the most controversial evidence that our fields are producing? Following a short presentation by each panelist, the conversation was opened up to others in attendance.
Panelists: Jeffrey Schall, Ingram Professor of Neuroscience
Mitchell Seligson, Centennial Professor of Political Science
Arleen Tuchman, Professor of History and Director, Center for Medicine, Health and Society
Moderator: Patricia Armstrong, Assistant Director, CFT
[21 attendees]

Nov. 12
Theme: “Teaching Critical Inquiry”
Thematic: As a follow-up to the conversation on teaching evidence, this session invited faculty and participants in different disciplines to consider different approaches to teaching critical inquiry and evidence-based interpretation and how these approaches enable students to make defensible disciplinary claims. Panelists discussed the following questions: What are the major characteristics of a defensible claim in your discipline? How do you prepare students to address conflicting claims? How do students learn to distinguish between substantiated and unsubstantiated claims? Following a short presentation by each panelist, the conversation was opened up to those in attendance.
Panelists: Ellen Armour, Carpenter Associate Professor of Theology and Associate Professor of Philosophy Houston Baker, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of English
Leonard Folgarait, Professor of History of Art
Moderator: Charles Scott, Director, Center for Ethics and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
[26 attendees]

Spring ‘09



Good Offices and Creating Synergy

The Center initiates and facilitates a variety of programs and possibilities that various entities in the University take over.  They include:

1. 2008-09
    a)  In collaboration with Frank Dobson, Director of the Black Culture Center, and Vanderbilt Visions we are developing a module for VV on Black non-academic employees who have been here for over 40 years.
     b)  The Center funds 50% of a non-tenure tack, three-year position in the Philosophy Department now filled by Dr. Joan Forry.  The position is designed to allow the Instructor to teach three courses a year on topics in applied ethics in addition to other courses.  The purpose of this initiative is to increase the opportunity students have to consider a wide range of ethical issues in connection with practical situations and professional practices.
     c)  We initiated and developed in collaboration with the Philosophy Department a 4+1 option in applied and social ethics.  In this option a student will spend one semester studying at either the Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University (South Africa) or the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Melbourne (Australia).  The connection with Stellenbosch originated through the joint efforts of Tracy Sharply-Whiting and the Center.  The connection with Melbourne developed out of cooperative work with the International Affairs Office.  The proposal for the 4+1 option was sent in late October to the Graduate Faculty Curriculum Committee with a unanimous recommendation from the Philosophy Department.

2.  2007-08
     a)  With Vanderbilt Visions we initiated a module for use in VV seminars in the form of a short film (“You and Your Changing Parent”) the planning, writing, and production of which too place over a period of eight months and involved approximately 16 faculty and students.  It was produced by Will Akers and written and directed by a team of very talented and hard working students.  The Center provided significant funding for the projected and participated in all phases of the project.
     b)  In collaboration with the Philosophy Department we initiated a new course, Introduction to Business Ethics.
     c)  In collaboration with HOD at Peabody we helped to organize and support a course on corporate social responsibility.  This is a further development in connection with our support of a TA last year for a course on that topic.

3. 2006-07
     a)  The Center supported a TA to help with the development of a new course in environmental ethics in Earth and Environmental Science.  The process involved collaboration with some people at Peabody.
     b)  In collaboration with Medicine, Health, and Society and the Philosophy Department we initiated a new and needed course, Introduction to Medical Ethics.
     c)  We began a continuing program of funding four TA’s for Introduction to Ethics.  These TA’s must come from outside of A&S.  The goals are, 1) to increase the opportunities for undergraduate students to have exposure to basic, traditional issues in ethics and 2) to create opportunities for students the professional schools to work on basic texts in ethics and to work with undergraduate students in the weekly preceptorials.  A mentor is available for guidance with assigned material and course procedures.

Other Projects

     This grouping includes important projects that do not fit in the previous categories.

l. Fall, 2008
     Energy, Sustainability, and the Environment.  Led by Forrest Perry.  Co-sponsored by Commons and the School of Engineering.  A five part series.  Each program began with a topical film followed by discussion with a three person panel
          a)  Economics and the Environment. September 11.  Film: “The Corporation.”  Panel members: Florence Faucher-King (European Studies and Political Science), Matt Grimes (Ph.D. candidate, OGSM), Christopher Rowe (Engineering Management).
          b)  Food and the Environment.  September 17.  Film:  “The Future of Food.”  Panel members: Kate Lassiter (Ph.D. candidate, Religion, Psychology, and Culture), Kevin Seale (Biomedical Engineering), C.J. Sentell (Ph.D. candidate, Philosophy).
          c)  Transportation and Energy.  October 8.   Film:  “Who Killed the Electric Car?”  Panel members: Brent Fitzgerald (president, Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility), Philip Franck (Theater Department).
          d)  Sustainable Lifestyles.  October 15.  Film: “Radically Simple.”  Panel members:  Mary Agee (University School of Nashville), Wilson Hubbell (University School of Nashville), John Morrell (Ph.D. candidate, English).
          e)  Sustainable Cities.  October 30.  Film: PBS’ Design e2 series, which explores the connections among sustainability, architecture, and community.  Panel members: Jonathan Bremer (CAS Dean’s Office), Christine Kreyling (author of The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City, and the architecture and urban planning critic for The Nashville Scene), Mark Smith (Vice President for Architecture at Gobbell Hays Partners, Inc. and founding board member of U.S. Green Building Council).

Ethics and Economics: Capitalism and its Transformation
Led by Forrest Perry (Center for Ethics). This group will meet throughout the semester to discuss issues that are ethical and economic: the nature of capital and profit-making, the global North and the global South, alternatives to capitalism, etc. Participants come from a variety of disciplines and schools at Vanderbilt.

Global Education and Study-Abroad Initiative
     In collaboration with the African American and Diaspora Studies Department and the Council on International Exchange, this program is primarily centered on cultivating study-abroad opportunities for students, the development of an explicit applied-ethics dimension in AADS theses and projects, and potential faculty collaborations through opportunities such as The Center for Applied Ethics (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) and an international symposium on "Tolerance and Intolerance."

The Achievement Gap Program
     The Center is currently supporting with other entities at Vanderbilt the Summer Scholar Identity Institute that takes place in association with the Vanderbilt Achievement Gap Project. This institute addresses Black male underachievement at the local level. It aims to prepare one hundred Black males to challenge themselves academically, psychologically and emotionally to be high-achieving students who are able to overcome and cope with peer pressures and other distractions that get in the way of their learning. Presentations, readings, discussions, and activities help students to enhance their problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, social skills, soft skills, and conflict resolution skills. The program is based on the research of Donna Ford and Gilman Whiting, who are the key faculty leaders for this impressive initiative.
2. 2007-08

     The Business Ethics Study Group.  During its second year, this group of eight faculty members from OGSM, Peabody, and CAS met monthly to discuss papers and books written by group members and relevant to business ethics.

     Symposium on Race, Culture, and the Ethics of Assimilation.  Organized by Kathryn Gines and co-sponsored by the African American and Diaspora Studies Department and the Black Culture Center.  Leading scholars in the United States with Asian, Latino, Muslim, and African American backgrounds composed the panel.

     “Black Paris: The Black Diaspora in the City of Lights.”  A conference held in Paris.  The Center in collaboration with the African American and Diaspora Studies Department sponsored five participants in the conference.

     The Collegium of Black Women Philosophers Inaugural Conference.  Planned and organized by Kathryn Gines.  Co-sponsored with other programs, centers, and offices.  In my opinion this was a particularly important, national event the continuation of which we were pledged to support until Professor Gines left Vanderbilt.

     The Global Justice Public Lecture Series.  In association with Robert Talisse’s and John Goldberg’s course and with the assistance of John Waymark and Brooke Ackerly, five lectures during the spring semester by Alison Jaggar (University of Colorado), Kok-Chor Tan (University of Pennsylvania), David Reidy (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), James Bowman (St. Louis University), and Mathias Risse (Harvard).

     Co-sponsored with the Law School, the Philosophy Department, and other offices Angela Davis as Visiting Distinguished Professor, Spring semester.

3. 2006-07
     Four Presentations of the film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Co-sponsored with the Earth and Environmental Science Department.  A faculty panel followed each showing of this film (a different panel each evening) to kick off lively discussions with the audience.  A total of over 800 people attending the presentations.  Patricia Conway, a graduate student in Community Action and Research, received support from the Center to organize and lead the program as well as to work as a TA with the Trans-disciplinary Initiative on Environmental Systems during the fall semester.


December 2008: The Common Moral Problems Study


Principle Investigators:  Graham Reside, Bruce Barry, Josh Perry
Primary Advisor:  Larry Churchill


The CMP project seeks to identify ethical challenges that are both routine within and common across key professional domains through the use of qualitative methods.  It assumes that the formal organization of the professions creates a set of common moral concerns.  Data is collected through ethnographic interviewing and on-line surveys of practitioners in medicine, law, religion and business.  The desired outcome is a thick description of the common moral elements of professional practice, which can help in the development of effective ethics curricula and provide a more nuanced understanding of the moral dimensions of the professions in the contemporary USA.

Review of project goals

The CMP project was conceived with three related goals in mind.  First, the study hopes to provide a more fine-grained understanding of the common or routine moral problems confronting professionals in four domains:  medicine, law, ministry, and business.  For example, one of the inquiries during our one-on-one interviews is:  "Describe the last time you had to stop and think about a problem or dilemma in your professional life that had a moral or ethical component."  Often our interviewee will reply, "What do you mean by moral or ethical?" to which we might respond, "That which pops up routinely or somewhat regularly and gives you an unsettled feeling in your gut."  In other words, we are interested in constructing a thick description of the types of banal (as opposed to extraordinary or career-ending) moral discomfort commonly encountered by professionals qua professionals.  The project's second goal is to discover common themes across the professions.  Such knowledge would permit us to contribute to the broader description of professional life and culture more generally.  We envision meeting these first two goals by translating our research data and analyses into one or more contributions to the scholarly and/or practitioner-oriented/popular literature.  Our third objective is to inform ethics pedagogy both at Vanderbilt and beyond.  We are working with the hypothesis that knowledge about the actual anecdotal experience of moral problems that are being reported frequently may help us provide a more realistic and detailed understanding of the competencies required of students in the midst of professional formation and of practitioners who engage in continuing professional education activities.  Accordingly, our hope is that this third goal can be met by the creation of a cross-disciplinary course on ethics and professional formation for Vanderbilt students at the Divinity, Law, Medical and Owen schools, as well as the creation of case studies for use in the context of continuing education modules.  Ideally, this work will inform conversations between educators at Vanderbilt (and beyond) and practitioners and professional associations on how to equip more adequately professionals with the necessary moral capacities for effective practice.

Project procedures and plans

Project design and piloting occurred, as well as completion of the IRB approval process, during the Summer and early Fall, 2007.  Online survey of Vanderbilt alumni clergy and lawyers, as well as one-on-one interviews began in late Fall 2007 and continued into Spring 2008.  On April 15, 2008, Graham Reside and Josh Perry presented preliminary findings based on data from 23 one-on-one attorney interviews, 15 one-on-one clergy interviews, and approximately 100 responses from the online survey.  At this stage in the project, five moral problems "common" to both clergy and lawyers were identified: 1) confidentiality issues; 2) conflicting service to multiple goods or purpose; 3) maintenance of a healthy work-life balance; 4) problematic relationships with money and other financial aspects of the professional life; and 5) the difficulty of maintaining personal integrity while striving to fulfill professional duties. 

Follow-up interviews, coding and analysis of the data received from lawyers and clergy has continued throughout the Summer and Fall 2008 and will continue into Spring 2009.  One-on-one interviews with physicians began in Fall 2008 and will continue into Spring 2009.  Online survey distribution to Vanderbilt alumni physicians is also planned for early 2009.  Coding and analysis of the data received from physicians is expected to occur in late Spring 2009.  If this research plan remains on track, the first written product(s) from this research are expected to be drafted during Summer 2009, and the development of a course in Fall 2009.