April 21, 2003

Undergraduates get new, ethical choice for minor

By Eric Rangus

Emory College students now have a new minor from which to choose. Following a decision by the College Curriculum Committee earlier this year, undergraduates may now choose ethics as a minor, and students may graduate with the minor as early as this year.

Students pursuing a minor in ethics must complete five courses in the subject, one of them being Introduction to Ethics (PHIL 115 or 115S). The other courses must be chosen from a list of 21 existing ethics-related courses in anthropology, biology, business, environmental studies, interdisciplinary studies, journalism, political science, philosophy, religion or sociology.

A minor in ethics is similar to a minor in violence studies in that each is multidepartmental and acts a complement to a curriculum that prepares an undergraduate for graduate professional studies.

“Most every research field or grant-offering institution requires some sort of ethics training,” said Melissa Snarr, religion lecturer and director of ethics and servant leadership in the Center for Ethics. “Trying to build these skills earlier, before students go to professional schools, is very important.

Creation of the ethics minor is the culmination of a nearly two-year effort by faculty in the Center for Ethics and other professors who teach ethics classes. The work began in spring 2001 when Snarr and Arri Eisen, biology senior lecturer and director of the science and society program, approached philosophy’s Nicholas Fotion and Pamela Hall about creating an interdisciplinary ethics minor.

Snarr was told that rather than try to create new classes focused on ethics, the going would be much easier if the focus was on classes that already exist but have an ethics-related theme. Snarr then met with ethics faculty from across the college who offered their support as well.

“Being just a lecturer, you always hear that it’s difficult to negotiate politics,” Snarr said. “But everyone was very open and helpful.” She added that a goal is to add to the college curriculum courses specific to ethics.

In addition to the 21 classes currently accepted for the ethics minor, students may petition for other classes to be included in their course of study. The class must have a significant focus on ethical issues and contain at least one assignment related to ethical analysis.

Since the minor was approved last fall, publicity has been light. Fotion said just one member of the Class of 2003 is minoring in ethics, but many more are expected as word gets out across campus.

Other than Emory, just two top-tier research universities offer interdisciplinary undergraduate programs in ethics. Yale offers “Ethics, Politics and Economics” as a major, and Stanford offers “Ethics and Society” as a course concentration.