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New Class Teaches Real-World Ethics from Different Perspectives


The aura of commencement had barely faded when graduate students descended upon Fordham’s Rose Hill campus for “Theories and Applications in Contemporary Ethics,” an intensive three-day course that provided cross-disciplinary perspectives on moral theory and applied ethics.

The three-credit summer class was organized by the Fordham Center for Ethics Education. It was an outgrowth of the center’s graduate certificate in health care ethics, and will form the basis of a forthcoming degree in ethics and society.

The course is an example of the center’s continued support of interdisciplinary dialogue on ethical and moral issues, said Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D., its director. In fact, the class featured discussions between faculty from six disciplines and drew students from programs as varied as psychology, philosophy, international political economy and development, social work and law.

“The mornings focused on exposing students to how different disciplines approach problems, and the afternoons included case-study solving that helped engage students with the faculty and apply interdisciplinary knowledge and perspectives to real-world problems,” Fisher said.

The problems discussed were: end-of-life decision-making among family members and physicians; the inclusion of incarcerated prisoners in research; and how to develop economic programs that fulfill the mission of distributive justice.

“We will change the topics to stay up to date with whatever issues are current,” she said of future course iterations.

The course embodied aspects that are central to Fordham’s mission, including the idea that ethics shouldn’t be relegated only to fields such as philosophy or theology, but can be put to good use in real-world situations, said Nancy A. Busch, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

“It demonstrated the notion that ethics is not just an academic discipline; it has relevance to questions that every student or scholar deals with,” she said.

Nava Silton, a fifth-year doctoral student in developmental psychology, said that even though the American Psychology Association has a code of ethics, it was helpful to chat about ethics with people whose backgrounds ranged from biology to English.

“The notion that we could have this meeting of the minds with ethics as the umbrella was great,” she said. “It struck me that psychology has its own ethics code but other disciplines do not, so I thought, ‘How cool would it be to use the APA code and help other disciplines create their own?’”

Silton said she was pleasantly surprised that faculty stayed through each session.

“I thought they would come in and do their thing and then leave, but they stayed through the lectures and had very meaningful comments throughout,” she said. “It felt like a team effort; they were valuing the series as well, and that made it more exciting.”

Another student who took the course was Bob Iovino (FCRH ’75), an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in South Hampton, Long Island. He is pursuing a master’s in philosophy with an emphasis in relative professionals ethics.

A faculty member at Stony Brook University’s dental school, Iovino has a great interest in ethics as it relates to his profession. He said the class was particularly helpful in linking theoretical concepts to concrete problems that he and his colleagues face.

“I was happy that I was able to attend, because I live in the real world; you can’t get any more real than what I do,” he said. “I like the idea behind the theory of ethics, but you have to connect it to something that’s real and has a practical application.”

Although the course initially was envisioned for approximately 10 GSAS students, Busch said she was pleased that many students from other colleges applied. Students had to receive recommendations to take the class, which was not widely advertised. They will be required to incorporate knowledge from the class in a future paper or research project; only then will they earn credit for the three-day course.

“When you think about the phrases that we associate with Jesuit education, like “men and women for others,” they carry the implication that we’re not just training students to think about the issues, but to put those thoughts into action,” Busch said. “It’s the thoughts and the actions together, the reflection that leads to informed actions.”


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