Scholars Brief Georgetown Board of Regents on Ethics Initiative

The Board of Regents held a meeting on October 28, 2011, at the Bioethics Research Library to discuss engaged ethics with a panel of distinguished Georgetown faculty as part of Georgetown’s launch of its new campaign “For Generations to Come: The Campaign for Georgetown.” President John J. DeGioia began the meeting and introduced the panel, which included Director Maggie Little, Senior Research Scholars Tom Beauchamp and Henry S. Richardson, and from the School of Foreign Service, Dr. John M. Kline. Dr. Beauchamp moderated the panel discussion and the subsequent Q&A.

In his introductory comments, Dr. Richardson helped to frame the discussion by distinguishing “engaged” ethics from mere “practical” or “applied” ethics. The “engaged” in “engaged ethics” refers to ongoing, bidirectional interactions between theorists and practitioners on ethical problems, in which theorists respond to empirical evidence gathered by practitioners and practitioners test and work out the innovations offered by the theorists. The panelists described the many ways that Georgetown and the Kennedy Institute have been leaders in engaged ethics. For example, Dr. Little discussed her work with the Second Wave Initiative on medical research to address the health needs of pregnant women, Dr. Kline discussed his recent efforts on the living wage and improving working conditions globally, and Dr. Richardson, who heads the research end of the Engaged Ethics Initiative, described his role and the projects funded through that initiative, including studies on the living wage, immigration, and corporations, specifically, the ethical considerations of maximizing profit as the overarching corporate goal.

Dr. Little, who heads the education end of the program, also explained the practical ways that the Institute will continue to innovate in undergraduate education via programs like Ethics Lab — a new undergraduate curricular initiative that is a partnership of the Institute, the Bioethics Research Library, and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS). Additionally, the panelists discussed the Residential Life elements of the program. Students will be able to volunteer to live on a special floor of one of the residence halls that is organized around an engaged ethics issue, complete with programming around the issue, faculty interaction, and group projects designed to bring the hall’s issues to life.

The panelists also answered questions from the audience, including a question concerning how this new campaign would advance Georgetown’s vision for engaged ethics in the future. They noted that part of the vision is for Georgetown to have the resources to carry out the necessary theoretical and empirical work to be more effective in engaged ethics, resulting in improved educational opportunities for our students and continued excellence in research.