Carleton Launches Program in Ethical Reflection

The Program in Ethical Reflection at Carleton (PERC) encourages campus conversation of morals and ethics.

20 December 2002

Carleton is a place where critical thinking doesn’t exist only in the classroom— discussions about critical issues carry over to dorm room debates, dining hall banter and student-faculty chats. To direct some of that debate to issues of ethics, this fall, the College introduced the Program in Ethical Reflection at Carleton (PERC). Led by the chaplain’s office but including voices from all over campus, PERC is designed to encourage students to grapple with personal and social ethical issues, wrestle with their moral responsibilities, and define their own values as they relate to an academic discipline, potential careers and their personal lives, says College Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum.

The program, funded through a grant from the Dale S. and Joan Benton Hanson Foundation Fund of the Saint Paul Foundation, brings in speakers, grants curriculum development money, assists with faculty seminars, and contributes a weekly column to the student newspaper, the Carletonian.

PERC organizers developed the program in response to a need at Carleton—incoming students list as one of their essential college objectives “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” at a higher rate than do students entering comparable colleges. In addition, 2001 graduates listed the same as their highest life and career value, ahead of financial affluence and authority in their chosen field.

Already this fall, PERC has sponsored a range of activities. PERC and Carleton’s political science department co-sponsored a visit from Ruth Grant, professor of political science at Duke University, who presented a lecture titled “Power and Influence: the Ethics of Incentives.” A student-organized discussion on the impact the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have had on civil liberties received support from the program, and a bioethics series culminating in a debate on the ethics of cloning for research purposes is planned for next term.

In addition, PERC sponsors curriculum development grants to assist faculty in developing or revising courses to strengthen classroom discussions of ethical issues. A weekly column on the Viewpoint page of the Carletonian addresses anonymously submitted questions on everyday ethical dilemmas. These questions are then answered by the “Carleton Ethicist,” a group of faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who provide insight and reflection in their discussion of the ethical implications of the posed question. Past topics have included the ethics of contributing to United Way considering their connection to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that discriminates against gay men; going to war with Iraq; violating free speech by removing certain postings from public areas on campus; and frequenting a restaurant whose owner has been charged immoral crimes.

Committed to expressing multiple viewpoints, PERC seeks to spark campus-wide discussions on a multitude of issues. In the next few years PERC hopes to address corporate ethics in a globalized economy, business ethics, ethical issues in media and journalism, environmental ethics, and the efficacy of nonviolence among other topics. “Our goal is to collaborate with student groups and other organizations already in place on campus to create an outlet for discussion and expression of ethical concerns,” says PERC project coordinator Zach Pruitt ’00.