Ethics awareness week celebrates 30 years

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Photo by Jim Fisher

In 1986, Utah Technical College (UTC) offered its first course in ethics and values, a general education requirement for all of its students.

Thirty years later, UTC is UVU, and the Center for the Study of Ethics celebrated its annual Ethics Awareness Week Sept. 26-30 and boasted 23 sessions throughout the week.

Ethics Awareness Week began with a 30th Anniversary Ethics Jubilee. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch accepted an Excellence in Ethics award for his continuing support of ethics and values at UVU.

Back in the 80s, the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) had rejected two of UTC’s grant proposals, saying that UTC did not show a commitment to the humanities, according to Elaine Englehardt, distinguished professor of ethics and founder of ethics and values at UVU. UTC only offered schooling in trades such as auto and diesel mechanics and refrigeration repair.

Students who were taking general ed humanities classes were choosing the easiest class at the easiest time from the easiest teacher, according to Englehardt.

“We even had members of the legislature say, ‘Well, students at Utah Technical College think with their hands and their feet, not their heads.’  I mean we had some terrible misperceptions of our students,” said Englehardt.

The humanities aren’t meant to teach students how to do something but how to be someone, according to Englehardt. “We wanted a class that would do that, an ethics and values class with an interdisciplinary core,” she said.

The NEH accepted UTC’s third grant proposal, and ethics and values has since received multiple awards, including best ethics course in the country.

Despite garnering national recognition, the school’s ethics and values course is not without its critics.  According to philosophy professor Shannon Mussett, ethics and values has a history of being scrutinized by students, faculty, neighbors and even administrators.

“You’ve got the word ‘ethics’ in it,” said Mussett. “It’s not like the word ‘cereal’ or the word ‘red.’ It’s already a charged word, and so people are already going to have something stirred up by hearing that.”

Jorgen Hansen, full-time philosophy lecturer, points out that students who challenge their own perspectives often solidify their own beliefs.

“If thinking critically is a threat, you don’t have a very strong belief,” said Hansen.

Hadlee Bland, a communication major at UVU, says her ethics and values class offers her a different perspective on global issues:

“I didn’t think about climate change before,” said Bland. “Everyone’s perspective is their own reality, and so it’s interesting to be able to like hear other people’s, and it makes you think really deep about different general views that I never even considered.”

Shane Smith, a digital media major, agrees.

“I wouldn’t probably consider it as a major,” Smith says, “but I hear a lot of people that take it that don’t really like it for some reason. I thoroughly enjoy it, all these different ways of thinking. It’s important to take into consideration everybody’s point of view and where they’re coming from.”