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Summer Institute

SUNY Cortland President, Dr. Erik Bitterbaum, approached the Philosophy Department in 2005 requesting departmental consideration to help train colleagues in infusing ethics throughout Cortland's curricula. Though extensive contact with faculty and students, it was clear to campus leadership that: a) when faced with ethical questions in the classroom, faulty members felt ill at ease moving outside of their own discipline to discuss issues of moral import; and b) it was necessary for undergraduate students to be faced with complex ethical questions across disciplines. As a result, the Philosophy Department, designed The Summer Ethics Institute to train 10 faculty members each year.

The Summer Ethics Institute participants are required to read an introductory text in critical ethical thinking, Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics (2003) by Simon Blackburn. This text provides faculty with a basic exploration of ethical thinking prior to coming to the Institute. Another preliminary requirement to participant attendance is a signed "Faculty Participation Agreement" that outlines expectations, remuneration, and additional professional development opportunities available as follow up to participants. 

The Institute itself provides an intensive 15-hour training in the rudiments of ethical thinking. Faculty members leading the Institute include Dr. Andrew Fitz-Gibbon, a professional ethicist, Dr. Kathryn Russell, a social philosopher, and Dr. Lawrence Ashley, an analytical philosopher.  Each of these department members work collaboratively throughout the year to assure that the Institute content achieves the three principle goals outlined in the first paragraph of this text.

The subjects covered include:

  • What ethical issues are raised for faculty in the classroom and do faculty deal with them?
  • Ethical principles #1: Moralism, skepticism, relativism, and philosophical ethics
  • Where are our students ethically?
  • Ethical principles #2: Hindu, Buddhist and African Ethics
  • Ethical principles #3: Basic Ethical Theories
  • Ethical principles #4: Feminist Ethics
  • Ethical principles #5: Ethics for Children
  • Development of an ethical argument.
  • How to help students develop ethical frameworks.
  • How faculty can infuse ethics into curricula.

Besides formal instruction, participants actively engage in discussions.  They also create a course syllabus or section of a course in which they plan to infuse ethical principles. Following the Institute, participants explore are required to include ethical thinking in their syllabi in the fall semester. In the spring semester participants are required to write a report on how their changes worked out and student responses to them. The Philosophy Department faculty has used these evaluations and reports to help refine the syllabus and needs for the next Summer Ethics Institute.

There is opportunity for one participant to engage in an extended reflection and piece of writing in ethics within their own professional discipline. For this, the participant will be given one course release in the fall semester and will be mentored by a member of the philosophy department in the completion of a publishable paper. The philosophy department is co-sponsor of the Rodopi Press Value Inquiry Books Series in Social Philosophy. Dr. Andrew Fitz-Gibbon is the series editor. It is our intention to publish a collection of papers in professional ethics derived from participants in the Summer Ethics Institute. This will be an important way to disseminate the information from Cortland faculty as they develop their ethical perspectives.