The Beamer-Schneider Professorship was created to develop undergraduate ethics. Elmer G. Beamer was the accountant for Kent Hale Smith, and Hubert H. Schneider was Smith’s lawyer. At a time when there was a lot of corruption in Cleveland, both men were known for their integrity.
The Beamer-Schneider Professorship, as designed with its donors, has one aim:
1. To create universal undergraduate ethical learning while at Case Western Reserve University.
My interpretation of this ambitious aim involves two design decisions:
A. To interpret “universal” through one-degree of separation universality. This means that if every undergraduate has had or knows someone personally and well who has had a successful ethical learning program while here, then the environment as a whole can be said to involve deliberate ethical learning.
B. To interpret learning as recognizing Student Life, not simply Academic Life.
The underlying core idea here is ethos: an environment of character development.
As to the means that seem best to realize this aim, there are seven.
M1: SAGES has the explicit goal of developing undergraduate ethical decision-making. If SAGES fulfills its mission, then the lion’s share of the Beamer-Schneider Professorship’s mission will be done. Accordingly, the professorship must support SAGES systematically in any way that it can.
M2: The individual professional schools have profession-specific ethical requirements and some professors in Arts & Sciences serve professional ethics education in their programs or outside them. Accordingly, the Beamer-Schneider Professorship should support professional ethics teaching. Currently, I have been doing research on how to support the Case School of Engineering supported by the Office of the Provost.
M3: Student life has many different offices that support ethos–and most are explicit abut doing so already. Think here of Residential Life, Counseling, Greek Life, Student Government, among others. Consulting the Inamori Professor of Ethics, I am exploring ways to bring this ethos into synergy as a whole with the support our professorships already provide in part. The whole will be greater and more helpful than the sum of its parts.
M4: Undergraduate Studies shapes ethical learning in explicit and implicit ways, including shaping policies that involve ethical decisions and affect students. Accordingly, working with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies is important to the mission goal of the professorship. First Year Experience is important. Career Services are important. And so on. The Beamer-Schneider Professor should support undergraduate studies in any way that accords with the goal of ethical learning.
M5: While developing the organic and general coherence of undergraduate ethical learning at CWRU is important, also important is developing a site on campus where theoretically rigorous ethical learning occurs in a way that can be useful to other parts of campus. This can be found in the Department of Philosophy having developed an ethics minor already and in the idea of an ethics track in the major. For this means to be fully successful, the department should actively consider the total ethics offerings around the university, especially in the Department of Bioethics, and think seriously about finding ways to join our program with options that support the others. We do this currently through the one-outside-course option in the ethics minor.
M6: The ethos of CWRU should include a number of regular, public forums for discussing ethical issues with some depth or personalization greater than that found in the popular media. To this end, the Inamori Prize, the Ethics Table, and the Beamer-Schneider Lecture in Ethics and Civics stand as public signs of our university’s commitment to ethical learning. Eventually, finding a way to publicize these forums alongside the many others that discuss values would create a more coherent message to the community. Consider simply the Social Justice Institute’s many forums, the Friday Public Policy discussions, the Diversity Lecture Series, and programs by the LGBT Center or the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women.
M7: Finally, the aim of achieving one-degree-of-separation universality needs to be assessed periodically. A useful and easy survey mechanism should be developed to survey undergraduates across the university, at the least on exiting the university. This means can involve more qualitative work, too. Focus-groups to provide in-depth entrance-to-exit feedback on the topography of ethical learning here could be very useful for a number of reasons, including identifying potentials and overlooked areas.
Looking over these 7 means to the professorship’s goals, the Ethics Table Fellows hold a transversal position. They do not map simply onto one means. This is for two reasons. First, the Fellows is a reinvention of a prior program, that of Bob Lawry, emeritus in the Law School. I think it is important to carry on successful institutional ideas. By developing the Ethics Table Fellows, the professorship continued Bob’s idea. Second, the Fellows are a general brain-trust for a number of the 7 means, a point of experimentation and learning that can reach out to different means at different times to free up connections or introduce new ideas. For instance, Fellows regularly teach in SAGES (M1); they have included members of Undergraduate Studies (M4) and Student Life (M3); they have included members of CSE (M2); they have pioneered some ethical assessment tools (M7). In addition, they reach out into areas of the university that are not explicitly tasked with undergraduate education but which shape our common university ethos–such as Research Management or the Law School.
The main aim of the Beamer-Schneider Professorship is ambitious. It requires the long game and depends upon a growing sense of team spirit. We can appreciate how it would help for there to be speed in the attainment of its aim. At the same time, patience is also important, given that the means of reaching the aim are complicated and involve many different offices, programs, and people. Everyone in our university community deserves a say in this ambitious goal that the university created in instituting the professorship.
The findings of the moral development study showed several areas where the university needs to come together and work:
1. CWRU undergraduates overwhelmingly and nearly completely wrestle with an environment of strategic academic dishonesty and cheating.
2. CWRU undergraduates have little sense of social justice, social context, history, social purpose, political engagement or civics.
3. CWRU undergraduates have little sense of intrinsic goods, self-transcending purpose, human flourishing, or of self-realization as an autonomous and relational being.
2 and 3 indicate an absence in great measure of what might colloquially be known as “idealism,” including -surprisingly- youthful idealism.
4. Rather, what presents itself as the self-understanding of the deliberative horizon, sense of flourishing, and requisite character of CWRU undergraduates is self-interested investment in their own immediate professional future.
There is an “absence of emergency” at this university about what is really going on for and with our students.
The simple, but difficult answer to this situation is for the university to return to what one of its main goals should be: the formation of self-knowledge. Let me explain:
Self-knowledge in the broadest sense should be a main goal of the university. After all, anything technical is good so far and only in so far as it is used well and anything professional is good in a person’s life so far and only in so far as it constitutes in part their human flourishing or contributes clearly toward it. This good includes respect for social justice. For one to know how to use something technical well, they must have a grasp of the ends of human life. And for someone to know how to allow a profession to be part of the human good, they must understand that good. Self-knowledge, broadly understood, is the endeavor in which both of these requisites for meaningful technique and professionalism are worked out.
In this light, the deep problem of the university will arise when self-knowledge is not built into the framework it university education. Thus:
* If our proposal for undergraduate general education does not end up emphasizing learning social context, ethics, the human condition, and so on; if, instead, it is almost exclusively understood in terms of a set of strategic instrumental skills and goals, we will have killed self-knowledge as a university goal in large part. General education must have actual content related to learning how to be human and learning how to be a citizen.
* If we see -across university classes- a systematic draw-down in writing teaching and extended, difficult, reflective writing assignments in classes in favor of tests, simplistic assignments, or the like, we should expect a diminishment of the self-reflective, communicative rigor needed for self-knowledge and the articulation of deep human aims. We must be demanding of our students to learn how to write extensively, rigorously, and reflectively if we want them to be able to know themselves as human beings objectively and subjectively. Writing forms the self.
* Finally, if the evaluative metrics of education at this school fail to probe self-knowledge and self-accountability by privileging information and skill-driven (rather than capacity-driven), pre-organized (rather than self-organizing), and consumer-driven questions and norms in teaching evaluations, self-knowledge in the broadest sense will also be undermined. If we want this school to have a truly ethical curriculum, we need to ask students to evaluate their own education ethically.
The real ethical problems of school are often deep inside the framework of education. If you want to help me make this school a better ethical learning environment, work on this framework, mainly by insisting on the goal of self-knowledge in the broadest sense as necessary for any satisfactory education.