GAINESVILLE, FL (FR) – Campus officials across the nation are discovering that there is a “moral vacuum” in the classroom and are attempting to rectify the problem by developing new ethics and moral values codes. Student behavior problems such as alcohol and drug use, cheating, and sexual promiscuity are now being viewed as by-products of value-less instruction and a de-emphasis on morals in the university curriculum.
In an effort to counter these student behavior problems, the Florida Board of Regents recently asked its nine state universities to develop an ethics and moral values code for faculty, administration, and students. While drafting the code, the task force agreed that the university system is not adequately educating students in moral and ethical values.
Dealing with values across the nation is a hot new issue which was popularized in the late 1980s by former U.S. Secretary of Education, William Bennett. The Florida Regents report states: “The concern for values and ethics should be expressed in classes, seminars, laboratories and, in fact, all aspects of university life.” Task Force Chairman Sam Hill related that scholars have become specialists in increasingly narrow areas within their disciplines and do not consider themselves qualified to teach ethics.
Instead, many professors come out of Ph.D. programs which stress only quantifiable results. Therefore, professors are apt to deliver value-free instruction rather than “creating an environment in which a student can be perceptive of ethical standards,” said Alan Merten, dean of the University of Florida (UF) College of Business Administration.
Art Sandeen, vice president for student affairs at UF, said the faculty are important influences for students. “The cliche that values are ‘caught and not taught’ may have some relevance here,” he said. “I think students learn values of honesty and integrity by being around faculty members who are exhibiting those traits, whether it’s in a research laboratory or a classroom or an office.”
Business schools are now grappling with the idea of educating students in ethical values, especially with the current emphasis on financial gain which has characterized the 1980s. “What we’re seeing now is a realization that there are things which should be taught in a university that are not necessarily quantifiable and need some value judgments,” Merten said.
Some business professors work with religion and philosophy professors to introduce ethical issues into their classes. A finance professor thought that too many students failed to develop their own ethical standards and values, therefore they automatically accepted the ethical standards which prevailed at their first job. To force students to confront their convictions, or lack thereof, he routinely asks students to write a description of their values system.
“It’s a simple thing,” said Merten, “but at least it confronts them on the question of what their values are.” Alfred Ring, professor emeritus of real estate, said too few professors teach what it means to be honorable and to have integrity. Instead, professors simply supply students with data, hoping they will use the information correctly. “If you ask the average student why he majors in a specific field, the chances are the student will say ‘to make money,’” Ring said.
The student body president at UF, Scooter Willis, suggested that a class on morals and ethics be added to class requirements for freshmen. However, campus officials believe that it would be too cumbersome to implement and are considering offering an optional course.
The effectiveness of ethics codes in addressing student behavior problems are yet to be seen. But in diagnosing the heart of the problem – a lack of emphasis on values in curriculum – faculty and administrators may be headed in the right direction.