Report for the Center for Ethics
Spring 2008

The Center found its pace and rhythm this year.  We are planning and committing to programs and initiatives a year to two years in advance of their occurrences: while we attended to the details of this spring’s projects we were also laying the groundwork for others through 2010-11.

One of the Center’s signature types of initiative is the May faculty seminar.  Before reporting on the full range of Center activities, I would like to describe for you the process that resulted in Michael Bess’ and Jonathan Gilligan’s May Seminar, “Technology, Commonweal, and the Transformation of Humanity.”  It’s the kind of process that we experience frequently and that provides an important dimension for the Center’s work.

In the fall of 2005, when we were talking with faculty members across the university preparatory to the Center’s official opening in January, 2006 we discovered a number of people who did not know each other and who had common interests in the social/ethical opportunities and problems posed by scientific and technological developments during the last twenty-five years.  We brought together in our unfinished office space a dozen of these people who introduced themselves and talked about their research and teaching in connection with topics on science, technology, and society.  The mood was positive and reflective, but not focused by a common project.  We followed up the meeting with individual conversations, but nothing congealed until early September, 2007, almost two years later.  Jonathan and Michael were in the Center to discuss with several other people issues connected with the use of computer technology in classrooms and on this occasion issues of trust between students and teachers in the context of the question whether to use software to check automatically for plagiarism in essays and tests.  The conversation gained intensity as it turned to the impact some technologies have not only on teaching but also on basic human experiences, even, perhaps, to the extent of transforming humanity, and to the exceptional importance of addressing such issues in our research and teaching.  We agreed to meet again the following week, and in the second meeting we developed the questions and themes that initiated this May’s Faculty Seminar, “Technology, Commonweal, and the Transformation of Humanity.”  The exploration and conversations continued for three months as Michael and Jonathan developed the particulars of the seminar and we talked through a variety of questions and possibilities.  Many of those who attended the meeting in the fall of 2005 participated in preparatory conversations as well as the seminar itself.  Participants came from Engineering, the Medical School, Arts and Science, and Blair, and included Judy the Robot who starred in a public program on May 13th.

An important aspect of the Center’s mission takes place as we work with faculty and students in considering and bringing to fruition promising ideas and interests.  The developmental process as well as the final product helps to define what we do.  During the year we have had many meetings and working lunches with students and faculty to explore nascent thoughts and maturing plans for proposed courses and a wide variety of other projects.  These exchanges that are so important for collaborative effort also constitute an educational process for all of us who are engaged in them.  They form a  significant aspect of the Center’s identity.

In 2007-08, in addition to Susan Schoenbohm, Program Coordinator, and Judy Thompson, Activities Coordinator, the following people joined the Center’s staff on a part-time basis:

Forrest Perry, Special Projects Associate in the Center and Instructor in Electrical Engineering (Computer Ethics)
Lyndi Hewitt, Assistant for the Global Feminisms Collaborative
James Bednar, Webmaster
Jeff Edmonds, Assistant for the Dissertation Fellows Seminars

Joan Forry will join the Philosophy Department in the fall in a joint endeavor with the Center and that Department.  She will hold the non-tenure track position of Assistant Professor for Applied Ethics.  Her duties will include teaching at least three courses a year on topics in applied ethics.


May Seminars
“Concerning Animals: A Retreat at Dyer Observatory.” For Faculty.  Led by David Wood
“Technology, Commonweal, and the Transformation of Humanity.”  For Faculty.  Led by Michael Bess and Jonathan Gilligan
“Pedagogy of the Difficult: Exploring the Hard Stuff.” For Graduate Students.  Led by Mark Schoenfield
“Teaching Texts: The Hard Stuff of Reading.”  For Graduate Students.  Led by Mark Schoenfield

Dissertation Seminars for Students Writing on Ethics-related Topics
There were six Dissertation Fellows seminar groups, each meeting bi-weekly during a semester, beginning in the summer, 2007.  Six students who are writing on ethics-related topics per seminar.  Participants agree to finish a chapter or section of their dissertations and to submit it to the group for advanced reading and then discussion. The participants are approved by the appropriate DGS and receive a stipend from the Center.  They come from a wide variety of departments in CAS and Peabody.

Grants Awared for Curriculum Development
“Human Rights and Literary Imagination,”  Sarah Passino, Fall, ‘07
“Prison and Exile Writing,” Idit Dobb-Weinstein, Spring, ’09
“Ethics and Animals,” Kelly Oliver, Fall, ’09
The grants for developing these courses are paid in two summer installments the second of which comes after the course has been accepted into the appropriate School’s curriculum.  Department chair’s approval of the proposal is required.
“Corporate Social Responsibility.”  In collaboration with the Human and Organizational Development Major at Peabody.  This is the third year the Center has sponsored this course. Spring, 2008, Matthew Grimes and Woody Lucas, TAs.

Grants for Interdisciplinary Course Development
“Values and the Environment: Theoretical Perspectives and Transformative Practices,” Fall, 2007, David Wood with Beth Conklin, Richard King, Florence Faucher-King, Mike Vandenbergh, Jonathan Gilligan, Brooke Ackerly, Gay Welch
“Global Citizenship,” Spring-Summer, 2008, Marshall Eakin, Brian Heuser, Eugene LeBoeuf and in connection with the VISAGE initiative
“Global Justice and Responsibility,” Spring, 2008, Robert Talisse, John Goldberg
“Air War and Its Aftermath,” Spring,, ’09. Gerald Figal, Sara Eigen
“Ethics of Race and Sexuality,” Fall ’09.  Jose Medina, Ellen Armour
“Immigration, Justice, Race, and Wealth Disparities,” A three course series: Spring, ’09,’10, ’11.  Carol Swain, Beverly Moran, Idit Dobbs-Weinstein
“Ethics of Violence,” Spring, ’10.  Kelly Oliver, Beni Trigo
These courses have been approved by the relevant Department Chair.  All courses are open to upperclass undergraduates and graduate students.

The Global Feminisms Collaborative
The GFC is the largest program that the Center sponsors.  Its eight dynamic faculty and student members carry out a variety of initiatives in research, teaching, symposia and other public programs, a brown bag lunch series, workshops, and global outreach.  See its site on Vanderbilt’s web for details,www.vanderbilt.edu/gfc.  Directed by Brooke Ackerly.

Ethics of Teaching
In collaboration with the Center for Teaching we co-sponsored during the year four lunch programs on the general theme of “Technology, Values, and Teaching.”
1 . “Pedagogy, Plagiarism, and Computer Technologies,” Melinda Brown, Cindy Franko, Michelle Sullkowski.
2.   “Laptops in the Classroom? Pedagogical Pros and Cons,” Duco Jansen, Jim Lovensheimer
3.   “Teaching in a Digital Age: How Should Technologies Shape Our Learning Spaces and Technological Practice?”  Patricia Armstrong, Jay Clayton, Matt Hall.
4.   “The Mediated Classroom: Ways that Computer and Other Technologies Are Transforming the Space of Communication and Relationships,” Jonathan Gilligan, John Sloop
Average attendance: 32

The Common Moral Problems Study
In collaboration with the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions.  Principle Investigators: Graham Reside, Bruce Berry, Josh Perry
This multi-year study explores the prevalent moral challenges that characterize contemporary professionals in medicine, law, business, and the ministry.  The primary assumption underlying this effort is that the common moral issues in professional life are especially important for understanding the current state of the professions themselves.  Rather than deal with such headliner issues as euthanasia, clergy sexual abuse, or fraud and corruption in business, this study focuses on ethical issues and questions that fall short of the extremes but that trouble and challenge many professionals in their daily working lives.  The investigators also assume that similar common problems might well characterize professional work in all four of the investigated disciplines and delimit the real horizon of professional ethics.  Attention to the routine, mundane moral challenges that professional people face might well provide a more nuanced understanding of some of the major characteristics of contemporary life in the United States.

Other Research Grants
Summer Research Fellowships for Graduate Students: Values and the Environment
Kate Brown (Sociology): “Russian Environmental Values”
John Morrell (English): “Analysis of Three Representations of Climate Change”
Jeff  Shenton (Anthropology): “Ecological Data Analysis from Fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico”
Sarah Tyson (Philosophy):  Summer Research Grant. “Women’s Exclusion from the Struggle for Participation in Philosophy”
“Religion and Politics in the South,” a multi-year project for graduate student researchers.  Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture and the Law, Divinity, and Peabody Schools.

Programs Sponsored or Co-sponsored by the Center
Four Workshops on Careers in the Non-Profit Sector
In collaboration with the Writing Studio, professionals from the non-profit sector met with students to discuss special writing techniques unique to this area.
Angela Davis, Visiting Distinguished Professor, Spring, 2008, co-sponsored with the Philosophy Department, the School of Law, and other offices at Vanderbilt.  Initiated and coordinated by Kelly Oliver.
Ethics and Economics Workshop.  Led by Forrest Perry and Carrie Hanlin. Spring Semester.  Graduate student participants from several disciplines.
“Soul Food and Soul Searching,” a program during Black History Month.
The Business Ethics Study Group met monthly at the Center during the year.  Eight faculty members.
The Collegium of Black Women Philosophers Inaugural Conference. Kathryn Gines, Director and Conference Organizer.  In collaboration with several offices and centers at Vanderbilt
Symposium: Race, Culture, and the Ethics of Assimilation  (Kathryn Gines, Organizer)
Vanderbilt Visions/Center for Ethics Film project.  A short film on parent/child transitions during the first year in college, planned, written, and produced by faculty and students this year for use next fall in Vanderbilt Visions’ seminars. 
Ethics 105 TAs.  The Center sponsors 4 additional TAs and a mentor for Introduction to Ethics in the Philosophy Department.  These TAs come from disciplines and schools other than Philosophy and Arts and Science.  The objective is to increase the exposure of graduate students from other disciplines to the history and teaching of philosophical ethics and to increase as well the exposure of students in the course to specific areas of ethical interest in the professions.
“Black Paris: The Black Diaspora in the City of Lights.”  A conference in Paris, in collaboration with the African American and Diaspora Studies Program at Vanderbilt.
“Global Educational Initiative.” In cooperation with African American and Diaspora Studies and the International Office at Vanderbilt.  The Center’s objective is to develop joint programs and exchanges with Centers for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and the University of Melbourne in Australia.
The Achievement Gap Program. Directed by Gilman Whiting and Donna Ford. The Center continues to support the award-winning film project within this program that addresses Black male underachievement at the local level.
Global Justice Public Lecture Series.  In association with Robert Talisse’s and John Goldberg’s course, Global Justice and Responsibility, 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 Bohman (St. Louis University), and Mathias Risse (Harvard).
The Highlander Rolling Seminar Project in association with OACS and the Student Life Office.  Weekend retreat on non-violence with James Lawson.
The Center joined many other entities at Vanderbilt in co-sponsoring The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities’ Conference, “We Speak for Ourselves,” in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.
 

Charles Scott
Director, Center for Ethics