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Literature Review and Best Practices

As Canales, Massey, and Wrzesniewski (2010) noted, educators need to help students grasp the long-term ethical implications of decisions. They lament the fact that business students, when asked what qualities successful business leaders would possess, rarely mention qualities like honesty or responsibility for others. Canales and colleagues specifically noted the responsibility to teach values as part of this process. In addition, students must be equipped with knowledge of ethical concepts and the skills to apply ethical reasoning to reach ethical outcomes (Johnson, 2009; Paul & Elder, 2009).

An important part of developing ethical-decision making skills is to understand ethical relativism (or the belief that every value is equally appropriate) and its challenges. William Perry's theory of intellectual and ethical development (Perry, 1970), describes the process students go through in discovering that not everything has an absolute right or wrong answer (dualism), to believing that all opinions are equally good (relativism), to believing that some opinions and positions are more justifiable and thus better than others (committed relativism). An example of a student's development to committed relativism was offered by Perry (1997), "I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values yet respect others, believe my deepest values right, yet be ready to learn" (p. 51). Although students will not be taught the specific stages of Perry's theory, they will be challenged to explore the challenges of ethical relativism, thus enhancing their ability to understand their values and to apply those to situations that call for ethical decision making.

Common Language Related to Ethical decision making

Student learning is often halted at the very onset of learning, and the reason is simple: Students cannot process content if they do not understand the vocabulary associated with the content area (Biemiller, 1999). The problem is confounded further when educators fail to acknowledge that learning the language of a particular domain requires effort that necessarily detracts from the effort that might otherwise be spent on processing higher-order conceptual knowledge (e.g. Barnett & Kosloweski, 2002). Paul and Elder (2009) noted the importance of a common language as a tool in ethical decision making. They noted that concepts and principles are often implicit in our language but as noted above, students must have a common conceptual understanding if they are expected to be successful learners. Thus, our first student learning outcome focuses specifically on helping students develop expertise regarding the language associated with ethical decision making. Specific concepts students will be asked to master appear in Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 Common Language for Ethical Decision Making

Values are basic beliefs or desires that consciously or unconsciously guide an individual's attitudes and actions (Gini, 1998; Josephson, 1997). For example, if reputation is very important to an individual, that individual will make choices in his or her life that results in an improved personal perception. (Note: Definitions related to core values WPU will emphasize are contained in the following section.)

Ethical relativism is the view that values are relative in the sense that no person's value is better than any other person's value. (Pojman, 1989).

Ethical Principles are values that are translated into rules or standards of conduct such as "tell the truth", "respect life", "do no harm", "don't cheat," etc. (Josephson, 1997).

Ethics is being referred to in a normative or prescriptive sense as rules or standards of conduct for individuals to use in determining how they ought to behave (Josephson, 2000; Williams, 1999). These standards are developed from values and ethical principles and can be standards for an individual or for members within a group or organization. For example, Peace's honor code is a code of ethics for all members of the WPU community to use when deciding how to act in a given situation.

Morals and morality are terms that many use interchangeably with the concept of ethics (Josephson, 2000; Rest & Narvaez, 1994, Williams, 1999). "Moral" is derived from the Latin word "mos", "moris" and is translated as a manner, habit, custom, or way of life (Kidder, 1995).

Ethical Dilemma entails a situation where there is a felt conflict between values or principles and a choice of action needs to be decided. A true ethical dilemma typically entails a felt right vs. right conflict, where one believes that there is not necessarily a wrong choice (Badaracco, 1997; Kidder, 1995). Some common ethical values that are involved in ethical dilemmas include truth versus loyalty and justice versus mercy (Kidder). According to Kidder, there are right-versus-wrong choices such as whether someone should cheat on taxes, lie under oath, overstate the damage done to a car for insurance purposes, etc., but these are not really ethical dilemmas; rather they represent moral temptations.

Character is a regular pattern of thought and action, especially with respect to concerns and commitments in matters affecting the happiness of others and oneself, and especially in relation to moral choices (Kupperman, 1991).

Learning Values

Literature has shown that the college experience is the prime time for students to reevaluate their values and to reflect on ethical issues (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) and thus many believe it is an obligation of college educators to provide support for students' learning of values (Canales & Massey, 2010; Katzner & Nieman, 2006; Kuh & Umbach, 2004; Morrill, 1980). Literature later in this section (see for example, Katzner & Nieman, 2006; Kuh & Umbach, 2004) reveals that dialog about value choices, rather than a prescriptive teaching of values, provides the best approach to helping students consider and adopt the values that guide their decisions.

Some consensus exists about which values best guide decisions that involve ethical choices. Researchers at The Institute for Global Ethics interviewed twenty-four individuals from 16 nations and the following were identified as universal values: love, trustfulness, fairness, freedom, unity, tolerance, responsibility, and respect (Kidder, 1995). The Josephson Institute Center for Ethics ( identified six pillars of character including trustworthiness (including honesty), respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Fritzsche and Oz (2007) found that people with different value systems make different ethical decisions. Specifically, they found that those with altruistic values (e.g., correcting injustice, peace, equality) made more ethical decisions than those who possessed primarily self-enhancement values such as authority, wealth or material possessions. Traditional values (e.g., family security, self-discipline) and values related to seeking change (e.g., varied life, curious, exploring) were unrelated to making ethical decisions. Using the Rokeach model (Rokeach, 1973) researchers have identified the values related to making ethical decisions in business, including responsible, honest, and broad-minded (Posner & Schmidt, 1992; Frederik & Weber, 1987; as cited in Fritzsche, 1995). Palermo and Evans (2007) found that honesty and equality were the two most important values associated with making ethical decisions for law students.

Considering the data related to students, our mission statement and the convergence of certain values across multiple models and research findings, we believe a slightly adapted version of the six pillars of character as defined by The Josephson Institute in their publication, Making Ethical Decisions (Josephson, 2005), will best frame our discussions with students. Open-mindedness, as defined below, parallels the value of broad-mindedness as defined by Peterson and Park (2009).

Table 5.2 Core Values and Definitions

Honesty - being truthful, sincere, and candid in speech; conducting one's life by adhering to societal or community rules (i.e., not steal, cheat, etc.).
Fairness - treating people equitably, with impartiality, and due process; being consistent and without bias in dealing with situations; not allowing self-interest to influence the decision; seeking information before making important decisions.
Responsibility - being accountable for our words, attitudes, and actions; avoiding shifting blame or claiming credit for others' work; fulfilling your obligation to do your best by persevering through challenges, avoiding excuses and completing what you promised.
Caring - expressing altruism, benevolence, kindness, or generosity; concerned with the welfare of others.
Citizenship - behaving effectively as part of a community; doing your "fair share" (or more) to help the group.
Open-mindedness - considering multiple different points of view; relying on evidence to make decisions; being willing to change your mind; accepting of information or people that challenge your perspective.

Richard Morrill (1980) provided a comprehensive view of values education in his book, titled Teaching Values in College. He states that "educators need to make a systematic and conscious commitment to fostering values through appropriate and imaginative forms of pedagogy" (p. 101). He proposes several possibilities for incorporating values education into the curriculum:

  • Include opportunities for ethical argumentation and analysis of real decisions and cases through applied ethics. Make a point to address the ethical codes and standards of various professions.
  • Emphasize cross-cultural studies by comparing other cultures' laws, ethics, social policies, and religions with our western culture.
  • Provide experiential learning and career preparation opportunities that allow students to directly experience the type of value choices and conflicts they will encounter in professional life.

Bowling Green State University made a commitment to make values education an integral part of their undergraduate education in 2000. A committee on vision and values was developed and provided a variety of recommendations labeled "The Bowling Green Experience". This program included curricular initiatives, co-curricular activities, and common experiences for first-year students and advanced undergraduates that revolved around values exploration and enactment (Katzner & Nieman, 2006). One of the initiatives involved having small, discipline-based classes of around 25 first- year students begin the semester with an intensive 2.5 day seminar focused on values. Faculty members who taught the course were required to participate in a weeklong series of workshops focusing on the teaching of values. In addition, faculty members from various disciplines were asked to incorporate discussions of values into their introductory general education courses.

Canales, Massey and Wrzesniewski (2010), professors at Yale University's School of Management, assert that small study groups, where students develop a strong trust with one another, is an effective avenue for having dialogue around values and ethical dilemmas. They challenged the notion that having graduates just take an oath was enough. They asserted that teaching ethical decision making in the curriculum is essential and that one of the best ways for doing this is through experiential learning.

George Kuh and Paul Umbach (2004) utilized results from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to provide insights about character development during college. Students at colleges that provided them the opportunity to be exposed to diversity in the classroom, talk with students of different races or ethnicities, or with those who have different political or social views showed the most growth during their college years. (See Appendix B for a summary of model programs we reviewed.)

Skill Development in Ethical Decision Making

Ethical decision making is a skill that requires critical thinking and reasoning skills. Wolcott (2005) noted that students experience some common flaws in reasoning such as failing to even recognize an ethical element in decisions, assuming there is a single correct answer, ignoring others' perspectives, being unable to support their recommendations, and being unaware of implications or trade-offs. She contends that from a developmental perspective, if students do not recognize an ethical issue exists or assume there is only one correct answer, then their ethical decisions will necessarily be flawed. In other words, students need to recognize the limitations of their own thought processes before applying an ethical decision-making framework.

Making ethical decisions requires consideration of how one's decisions will affect others (Wolcott, 2005). Ethical decision-making skills must be practiced and decisions discussed with others to understand probable impact. Thus, this focus of our QEP will attempt to ameliorate in our students the poor decision-making skills that often underlie unethical behavior (Johnson, 2008; Messick & Bazerman, 1996).

Teaching ethical decision-making frameworks to students has been shown to be effective in helping students to more systematically examine the components of an ethical dilemma (Hartman & DeJardins, 2008), improve their ethical reasoning (Wu et al., 2008), and focus less on intuition and more on logic in decision making (Moore & Lowenstein, 2004). In addition, with practice, ethical decision-making skills may be automatically implemented (Aarts, Verplanken, & van Knippenberg, 1998), resulting in future ethical decision making. Because undergraduate students are just as susceptible to systematic weakness in decision making resulting from biases all humans have about human nature (Messick & Bazerman, 1996), being able to automatically call upon an ethical decision-making framework may make students less prone to the effects of these biases, and thus help them make more ethical decisions. Furthermore, some aspects of the process of ethical decision making, such as reflection, are also cited as being important for lifelong learning (Mentkowski, 2000), another component of the WPU mission.

A number of ethical decision-making frameworks exist. Each model has both pros and cons, and each model is better suited for making ethical decisions in some arenas and about some topics than others. For example, some decision-making strategies are comprehensive, but time and labor intensive (e.g. Kidder's Ethical Checkpoints Framework; Nash's 12 Questions model). Others may limit creativity or fail to incite moral action (e.g. the SAD Formula), one component of moral behavior. Still others are best suited for theorizing about a problem rather than solving it (e.g. Rest's Model of Ethical Behavior). At the same time each of these has a host of advantages, including encouraging systematic thinking, increasing analytical reasoning, highlighting fact-gathering, focusing on principled conclusions, and considering situation-specific elements of a dilemma. Because institutions such as WPU offer varied fields of study and because problems differ in the kinds of elements that must be considered, it is likely that broad training in ethical decision making will better prepare students for the challenges associated with ethical decision making. A hybrid model -- such as that discussed by Wolcott (2005), Lincoln and Holmes (2010), or Hirokawa and Gouran (1996) -- that incorporates shared elements of the ethical decision-making process, while still highlighting variations in ethical models and decision-making frameworks, provides a practical alternative to teaching multiple different models. This approach allows for multiple teaching methods, such as case studies, class discussions where students are paired with those with different ethical decision-making preferences (Burpitt, 2010), and other innovative teaching techniques that allow students to construct their own argument structures (McElreath, 2008) may result in the best learning outcomes regarding ethical decision making.

Based on our review of existing models, we suggest WPU adopt a mixed-model framework for ethical decision making such as that used by Mainella (2010) but which also is rooted in the eight elements of thought - highlighted in bold in Table 5.3 -- as defined by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (2009). Table 5.3 summarizes the Eight-Question Model for Ethical Decision Making that has been adopted by William Peace University for use in the CHOICES program.

Table 5.3: Eight-Question Model for Ethical Decision Making

  1. Purpose and Question: What is the ethical question(s) you are trying to solve and why is this important?
  2. Information: What are the relevant facts that might help you answer the question(s)?
  3. Points of View: Who are all of the people involved and what are their respective interests?
  4. Principles and Values: What are the relevant values or principles?
  5. Assumptions: What are you assuming?
  6. Options and Consequences: What are the main options for action and what are the likely consequences for each option?
  7. Conclusion: What is your answer to the ethical question? Based on your responses to questions 1-6, provide an explanation to support your answer. In your explanation, make sure you include the general principle you used to answer the question. (A general principle is a moral rule that applies to more than one situation.)
  8. Implications:
    • What is the impact of your answer (decision) on various stakeholders (i.e., family, friends, coworkers, boss, society, community, etc.)?
    • What would happen if everyone made the same decision you made?

Using a model grounded in the eight elements of thought involved in critical thinking (Paul & Elder, 2009) allows disciplines to alter the questions above to be more relevant to issues and dilemmas in their fields of study. The Eight-Question Model also combines a focus on the process of decision making (skill) along with the values guiding the decision.