Volume 85 Issue 46 | p. 5 | Letters
Issue Date: November 12, 2007

Teaching Ethics

Department: Letters

I was away in July and have just read Ivan Amato's article "Experiments of Concern" (C&EN, July 30, page 51). It is especially relevant at the moment, because in September there were three performances of "Should've" here in Alberta, and playwright Roald Hoffmann was my guest.

From 1984 to 1995, when I retired from lecturing, I used 4% of lecture time in all my courses to involve the students in discussions of ethics. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, my department chairman and the dean of the faculty of science admonished me on several occasions that "ethics is not science, and you are paid to teach only chemistry." I nevertheless continued to use 4% of lecture time to discuss ethics with students. Consequently, I was twice fined many thousands of dollars by the academic vice president, who agreed that ethics is not science and not appropriate for discussion in science lectures.

That situation has changed only cosmetically in our university and many others. A basic change in our present culture is needed, and it will take another generation or two to happen to a significant extent. I continue to do my bit, but it has to be subtle, because the administrators of this university are still chasing money at all societal costs.

Nothing is more useless than formal courses in ethics. Behavior has to be taught in situ, when situations are appropriate.

Gordon Freeman
Edmonton, Alberta

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