When a university makes teaching ethical reasoning skills a ten-year project, people notice.

James Madison University’s (JMU) initiative, Ethical Reasoning in Action, is only seven years into reaching all 18,500 undergraduate students, but Chair Bill Hawk reports that other schools are already trying it out. Programs from the University of Hawaii, IUPUI, and UNC – Charlotte are adopting, adapting, or considering JMU’s plan, as are a university and high school in Rwanda.

Ethical Reasoning in Action teaches eight key questions (8KQ) for ethical reasoning and provides practice asking 8KQ in classrooms, co-curricular activities and student life. Reference to 8KQ comes up in Presidential addresses, workshops and even a song contest. While instruction in 8KQ is part of first-year orientation and many classes, Hawk would like to see more consistent use in the curriculum.

The 8KQ ethical reasoning strategy, best used in groups that include outsider perspectives, encourages asking an array of moral questions — fairness, outcomes, responsibilities, character, liberty, empathy, legitimate authority and rights – to expose moral blind spots and stimulate reflection before acting.

Ethical Reasoning in Action was chosen as the school’s decennial Quality
Enhancement Plan (QEP) required for reaccreditation. Part of the 8KQ
strategy’s appeal, Hawk said, is its interdisciplinarity and practicality, as it is grounded in behavioral economics, social psychology and moral philosophy.

What is the role of ethics in your learning community? Send your story to Deni Elliott, elliott@usf.edu

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