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Spartanburg Professors Discuss Ethics, Character Education

Thursday, June 19, 2003

SPARTANBURG, SC – Firm in their belief that college-age students are still developing morally, four of Spartanburg’s higher education campuses are collaborating on a character education program for professors designed to integrate ethics in the classroom.

A pilot workshop for college faculty, called “Ethics Across the Curriculum,” was held recently on the Wofford College campus and involved a dozen faculty members from Wofford, Converse College, Spartanburg Methodist College and the University of South Carolina Spartanburg.

Dr. Charles D. Kay, professor of philosophy at Wofford, was among the organizers, who plan for the workshop to be an annual event. “This was a groundbreaking cooperative academic venture involving all four colleges, and feedback was very positive,” he says.

Wofford College for several years has hosted the Character Education Academy for secondary school educators, a program Wofford developed that has been used as a model throughout the state. The academy was not held this year because of budget cuts at the S.C. State Department of Education. Kay and his colleagues decided, instead, to run the pilot workshop for local college professors, which did not involve state funding.

“In the workshop, we read philosophical selections, such as Aristotle and Mill, but also literature, case studies in different disciplines, as well as articles about teaching ethics across the curriculum,” Kay says. “We also discussed issues of professional ethics. Now, we are setting out to raise funds for similar workshops over the next two or three years; we hope to extend the three-day workshop to four.”

Kay says some people wonder whether college is too late to teach ethics. “They wonder whether students are already too old and set in their ways for character education to be effective at the college level. But, of course, the habits we develop on the job, and in marriage and family relationships, are largely unformed until later in life – and, it is not too late to learn to be good, or better.

“A major part of ethics across the curriculum is helping students become more aware of the extent of the ethical issues that surround them every day,” he continues, “and that is very much a part of college-age education.”

Assisting Kay in conducting the workshop were Dr. Deno Trakas, professor of English at Wofford, and Dr. Dan Wueste, director of the Rutland Center for Ethics at Clemson University. Kay and Wueste are members of the national Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum, which met last fall in Greenville. Kay and Dr. Bob Moss, associate professor of biology at Wofford, made presentations at that meeting about dealing with ethical issues in biology courses.

“The faculty attendees came from a wide variety of fields, such as chemistry, biology, English, Spanish and mathematics,” Trakas says. “Our purpose was to provide a crash course in ethics to establish a theoretical foundation, and then to discuss the ethical issues and dilemmas that arise on our campuses and in our classes.

“We also hoped to improve communication and camaraderie among the schools in our ‘College Town,’” he adds. “Now, we hope that the colleges involved and the surrounding community will support us so that we can offer a similar workshop with new participants next year and thereafter.”