By Jonathan Beever, Director and Co-founder
Ethics is a study of values. The goal is to understand the meaning of values and how they complement and conflict. Values play a central role in the work we all do, from research to teaching to service. In research, values shape the questions we ask, the methods we use, and the ways we interpret results. In teaching, they shape our ability to understand our students’ perspectives, our approach to classes and our approach to pedagogy. In service, they orient us to our community, support collaborations and guide our reasons for serving. Taking up ethics strengthens communities, focuses our work on both good ends and good means, encourages good intentions and supports the integrity of our institution.
Yet, the term “ethics” leaves a sour taste in many mouths. Following the announcement of our new UCF Center for Ethics, some colleagues have messaged me: “One more bureaucratic requirement?” they worry. “Shouldn’t we always already be ethical? Why is the burden on us to do the work of cultivating ethics?”
I remind my colleagues that ethics is not compliance. Although they are regularly coupled at institutional levels, as they are here at UCF, ethics and compliance are importantly distinct. Most of us act ethically by habit and training. Unethical actions that make the news are reminders that we have a responsibility to cultivate a culture of ethics across our institution and beyond, not that we should give up. This cultivation of ethics is not the responsibility of administrators; indeed, they have their own worries about legal and regulatory compliance focused on protecting the university. A culture of ethics must come from us.
The Center for Ethics strives to complement the work of compliance. The center gives ethics space to breathe and grow through conversations among our faculty across departments. In these ways, it complements the institutional focus of our colleagues in compliance by enabling transparency about the values that are the rich soil in which the plants—and the weeds—of regulation grow.
We support our shared faculty-driven commitment to ethics by retaking its meaning. We do this not through mandatory meetings and online trainings, but through discussion, consultation and collaboration. We can cultivate ethics and reshape the scope and implementation of compliance by exchanging ideas and best practices we have collected from our training and experiences inside and outside UCF.
We support engagement with the Theoretical and Applied Ethics Graduate Certificate Program as a means of supporting graduate student and professional growth. The center also works with existing frameworks—such as the College of Graduate Studies’ Pathways to Success program—to infuse ethics into students’ professional development. We also can partner with faculty who need to include explicit ethics training in their courses and proposals for extramural support of student-training.
As we grow, we will work with faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and community partners on ethical issues that matter to our students, their families, the community we serve. The UCF Center for Ethics will concentrate effort through rotating tracks of emphasis, offering research and curricular support. Our work is about building ethical leadership through faculty-driven engagement with the center and the expertise in ethics we house.
We cultivate excellence by complementing disciplinary strengths and existing compliance frameworks with ethics expertise to address emerging ethical issues with direct impacts on our institution, national partners, and the Central Florida community. Our research supports outreach to regional, state-wide, and national organizations to improve policy that upholds coherent and consistent ethical decision-making. The center’s goals are to
- Lead collaborative and innovative ethics research and policy-support in support of diverse stakeholders within the University, and the Central Florida region, and beyond;
- Provide expert-informed and innovative ethics training and education for faculty, staff and students related to UCF’s goal to grow research and graduate programs as a means of transforming lives and livelihoods; and to
- Create and sustain partnerships in with academic, business and professional partners to infuse ethics into institutional cultures and practices as a means of fostering ethical principles to support solving our region’s greatest health, environmental, social, and technological challenges.