What is Campus Ethics?

Scientific research at universities is subject to ethical review.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
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Campus ethics is the study of ethics as it pertains to a university environment. It includes everything from the honor codes which govern rules of behavior at most academic institutions to studies on conflict of interest in scientific research. The field of campus ethics recognizes that academic institutions have some very unique responsibilities and obligations, as well as some complex ethical issues which sometimes need to be unraveled. Many institutions of higher learning have a campus ethics division to address these issues.

At its most basic, campus ethics involves establishing standards of behavior for faculty, staff, and students at an educational institution, and clearly spelling these standards out to create an enforceable honor code. Many new arrivals are given ethics handbooks, which include a discussion of the school's mission and specific concerns in academic, such as plagiarism and abuse of power on the part of administrators and instructors. In military schools in particular, the honor code also includes a section discussing enforcement and consequences for people who choose to break the honor code.


Many campus ethics programs also sponsor lecture series and talks in which professionals talk about ethics. These talks delve deeper into the ethical issues which are present on college campuses, and sometimes they are customized to reflect specific problems from within certain disciplines, such as informed consent in medical studies, or neutral observation for anthropologists. Many of these lecture series include question and answer sessions in which members of the audience can engage with the speaker to bring up specific questions and issues.

Some schools also have a campus ethics curriculum, and they may require that their students take one or more ethics classes during the course of their study. Curricula usually include a basic ethics class which is targeted at all students, covering very basic ethical issues, with higher-level classes for students in specific disciplines ranging from environmental studies to business. In some disciplines, such as medicine, archeology, and psychology, students may be required to take several ethics courses to ensure that they will fulfill the ethical obligations associated with their chosen professions.

Campus ethics is designed to stimulate the minds of students, and to get them thinking about ethical problems and potential solutions. These programs are also supposed to shape more honorable, ethical graduates, who will represent their alma maters with distinction in the outside world. Graduates of colleges with campus ethics programs often credit these programs with the shaping of their personal ethical codes and conduct later in life, suggesting that the goals of campus ethics requirements may be succeeding.


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