Faculty appointments to position Penn State as leader in ethics literacy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State is embarking on a transformative effort to establish itself as a leader in interdisciplinary ethics research and ethical literacy, with plans to make 12 tenure-track appointments across an array of academic disciplines over three years. The positions will be co-funded by the University and the academic colleges.

“This initiative will position Penn State at the intersection of our research strengths and the world’s major ethical conversations, and will ensure that our graduates continue to bring high levels of ethical literacy to the workplace,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “This work is critical to our goal to produce the next generation of thought leaders. Penn State has a strong record of accomplishment in ethics education and research, and these new recruitments will further position the University as a leader in this arena.”

All appointees will work primarily in their home departments but have partial appointments in the Penn State Rock Ethics Institute. The goal will be to integrate ethics into research projects in the sciences, engineering, humanities, and social sciences, to integrate ethical analyses into policy-relevant research, and to enhance collaborations with colleges to advance the integration of ethics into the curriculum at all levels, including graduate and postdoctoral mentoring in research ethics.

Susan Welch, the Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said the effort will continue to build upon priorities outlined in the University’s current strategic plan, which calls for the integration of ethics into the academic pursuits of all members of the Penn State community.

“The idea isn’t to say, ‘everyone has to take a course in ethics,’” said Welch, whose college is home to the Rock Ethics Institute. “Rather, the goal is to integrate the study of ethical concerns into courses that already are part of the curriculum. So, for example, if a student is taking a course that relates to the construction industry, they might study ethical issues related to the construction bidding process or the use of inferior construction materials.  Students in the health-related disciplines will focus on ethical issues relating to patient care and the health system. The goal is to help students and researchers from a wide array of academic disciplines to think critically about the ethical issues that will face them in their everyday work and life.”

Nancy Tuana, who holds the Nancy Tuana Directorship of the Rock Ethics Institute, said the initiative represents a significant expansion for the organization, though the basic tenets will remain the same.

“The Rock Ethics Institute has been working for the past 14 years to ensure that one of the legacies of a Penn State education is what we call ‘moral literacy’: the ability to identify when a situation involves an ethical issue and to effectively assess the ethical dimensions of that problem in order to be able to take responsible action,” Tuana said. “We already work with faculty in nearly all of the academic colleges, through workshops and other partnerships. This initiative will allow us to institutionalize that effort by hiring faculty members who will bring with them specific expertise in the study of ethics, in addition to expertise in their chosen field.”

Tuana said the hires would be made in groups of four over three years, with final appointments to be made in the 2016-17 academic year. The hiring committee will look for candidates who can bring an ethical dimension to Penn State’s areas of research strength and to disciplines where global ethical conversations intersect with academic research, such as climate science, food science, cyber-science or the study of infectious disease.

“These are hires that will be made across the University – by design, they will not be made in one specific area,” Tuana said. “This unique approach to ingraining ethics into our curriculum and into our research promises to be transformative, not just for Penn State, but for all of higher education.”

Welch said Penn State’s position at the forefront of interdisciplinary ethics research and the integration of ethics throughout the curriculum can be attributed to the institute’s founders.

“This entire initiative is the result of the great vision and generosity of Doug and Julie Rock, who many years ago endowed the Rock Ethics Institute and have generously supported the effort ever since,” Welch said.

The institute was established through a $5 million gift in 2001 from Doug and Julie Rock to the College of the Liberal Arts. The institute’s mission is to promote ethical awareness and inquiry across the University, and in the public and professional sectors, through a three-fold emphasis on teaching, research and outreach. Recently, the Rocks endowed the Nancy Tuana Directorship of the Rock Ethics Institute with an additional $5 million gift, which was part of a larger commitment they made to the College during For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.

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Last Updated December 02, 2013