Rollins Announces New Minor in Ethics

August 10, 2020

By Audrey St. Clair ’03

Students engage in round-table class discussion.
Photo by Scott Cook.

The interdisciplinary minor complements any major and hones the critical thinking skills needed to make a difference in any profession.

The Rollins Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies has launched a new minor in ethics, advancing the College’s mission to cultivate responsible leaders and global citizens in the 21st century.

The interdisciplinary minor can complement any major by sharpening the skills needed to navigate complex social, political, and professional issues. It also offers numerous opportunities to put ethics into practice in the real world by teaching students to reflect on the impact and consequences of their actions.

“This new minor was partly developed out of the understanding that the world we live in is increasingly complex and interdisciplinary,” says philosophy professor Margaret McLaren, who worked to develop the minor alongside philosophy professors Ryan Musgrave and Eric Smaw. “Ethics is a critical tool for understanding the world and making informed decisions.”

Ethics as a branch of philosophy comes from the Greek word “ethos,” or character. Its study involves tackling the core values that underlie theories and practices by individuals and social groups. What is right or wrong, good or bad? The minor equips students with a range of ethical lenses, principles, and criteria with which to sort out such essential questions.

Ethics touches on tough questions in any field. For the computer scientist: What’s ethically at stake with deep-fake videos on the internet? For the museum curator: How should human remains from an indigenous burial site be handled? For the doctor: Which of 10 critically ill patients should receive one of three ventilators?

“As a leader, whether you’re a hospital administrator, a lawyer, someone who works on public policy, or the owner of a small business, ethics allows you to have a framework to make those decisions critically in an informed way,” says McLaren, who is serving as the program director for the minor.

For Mac Scheer ’23, the ethics minor offers a lens of thinking about the world through structured ethical frameworks, which enhances her major in international relations. Scheer’s Rollins College Conference (RCC) course, Ethical Controversies and Responsible Global Citizenship, taught by McLaren, sparked her interest in ethics. It provided her a framework to solidify an opinion and introduced new subjects to her, including cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, which have helped shape her own beliefs and a sense of personal and professional purpose.

“I know that I want to help people and do right in the world,” says Scheer. “The ethics minor helps me understand how I should help people and what is good and right. I have a better understanding of my own morals, so I can apply them to my life now and in the future.”

Philosophy students engrossed in a lecture.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Employers and graduate programs are seeking the types of skills and perspectives that are fine-tuned by studying ethics and their application in the workplace. In recent decades, for example, MBA programs have increasingly incorporated ethics into their curriculums, buoyed by the growing trend toward corporate social responsibility. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recommends that the core competencies for career readiness include critical thinking and problem solving, professionalism, work ethic, and global and intercultural fluency—exactly the kind of skills developed through Rollins’ innovative, interdisciplinary curriculum.

“Ethics gives you the tools, both the skills of critical thinking and the theories, frameworks, and standards by which people are making decisions,” says McLaren. “Ethics is about a normative standard of fairness and justice that might not be what’s going on in the world. Ethics is applicable to real-world scenarios, but the framework of ethics is something you need to learn so that you can apply it.”

Rollins is well positioned to offer the ethics minor, with the core faculty holding PhDs in Western ethics and value theory. Additionally, more than 40 Rollins faculty have training in how to teach and apply ethical reasoning in their disciplines. Rollins offers 27 courses with the Ethical Reasoning Competency (ECMP) designation, which count toward the minor and fulfill the graduation requirement for competency in ethical reasoning.

The interdisciplinary minor combines six courses, including a required introduction and two courses from a list of topics like environmental ethics and feminist theory, in addition to three 300- or 400-level ECMP electives from any department. The wide variety of courses available to fulfill the minor touch on everything from theater and education to medicine and public policy. Some of the options toward the minor include some of the College’s most popular courses, including Zombies, Serial Killers and Madmen and Art Gone Bad: Ethics, Politics, & Art.

Explorations of ethics are central to many of Rollins’ experiential opportunities for service and study, including Immersions, field studies, and study abroad. McLaren notes that studying ethics requires students to reflect on the fairness of policies and practices and issues of social justice, which are invaluable skills when working with community partners, navigating new cultural contexts, and developing awareness of one’s own values and cultural context.

A Rollins professor leads a discussion in an outdoor classroom.

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