What is Campus Ethics?

Mary McMahon

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.

Scientific research at universities is subject to ethical review.
Scientific research at universities is subject to ethical review.

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 sponsor lecture series and talks about ethics.
Many campus ethics programs sponsor lecture series and talks about ethics.

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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.

Campus ethics examines how students interact with each other.
Campus ethics examines how students interact with each other.

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.

Campus ethics might look at how students spread rumors about each other.
Campus ethics might look at how students spread rumors about each other.

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Discussion Comments


@serenesurface-- Why don't you talk to an administrator about it? I'm not sure whether that type of activity is ethical or not. But if a student has concerns then the university ought to look into it and take action if required.

Of course, in addition to teaching students the basics of ethics, universities have to be ethical institutions as well. Campus ethics can be a little more complicated because administrators may not always be aware of every single activity that takes place. This is not an issue in most universities, but ragging, for example is a common problem in some. In some cases, ragging among students can be very serious and even unethical. So the university has to do its best to make sure that rules are followed and that no one is ever harmed or treated unethically on campus.


I was required to take several ethics courses in college, as part of my political science curriculum. I'm so happy now that those courses were required. I know that I greatly benefited from those courses. Even today, many years later, I remember those ethics lessons and apply them in real life. I think that all students, regardless of their area of study, ought to take at least one ethics course.


There is a lot of religious propaganda that takes place at my campus. Certain student groups or even individuals hang around in front of the library and literally talk about their religion and why it's great. If it was a rare thing, it would be fine. But they're there almost every day.

I find this unethical because there are students from a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs. And I think that many students are bothered by this activity but they don't know what to do about it. I wish these types of things were not allowed on campuses.

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