Haverford College’s Ethical Leadership Institute Expands in Its Second Year
Following a successful 2016 pilot, the innovative summer program doubled its participants and created two parallel course tracks: one focused on medical ethics and another on business ethics.
Is the person who steals something to help someone else a hero along the lines of Robin Hood or simply a criminal? What if the victim of this crime is a successful big-city hospital pharmacy and the goods being taken are medicines that will benefit some of the world’s poorest and neediest populations? What if the doctor doing the taking is a well-known humanitarian?
These were the tricky questions being discussed last week in the “Contemporary Issues in Medical Ethics” section of this summer’s Ethical Leadership Program. Instructor Ruth Levy Guyer facilitated the discussion, admitting the theft made her uncomfortable.
The group was split:
“His actions probably saved hundreds or thousands of lives. The ends justify the means,” one student said, while another noted, “The hospital is making so much money. This just leaves a little less for the overpaid CEO.”
A third student compared stealing drugs from the hospital to taking pens from an office. “It’s an ambiguous area,” she said. “I can forgive it. I don’t know if I’d do it myself … but I don’t think less of that doctor as a person.”
Last summer’s inaugural Ethical Leadership Program garnered rave reviews from its 12 participants, with one calling it, “one of the best run, best executed, and most meaningful programs I have ever participated in.”
“I think why the students enjoy it so much is because it combines the theoretical with the applied,” said Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ann Figueredo ’84. “They recognize that they will face ethical decisions in anything and everything that they do beyond Haverford, and they like learning a framework in which to make those decisions.”
Building on that enthusiasm and success, this summer’s program was expanded to accommodate 24 students assigned to one of two tracks: the medical ethics program and another focused on business ethics. Visiting Professor Neal Grabell ’77, a lawyer who spent more than 20 years in the business world, has taught at Haverford for 10 years, and who was the sole instructor last summer, led the business section again this year.
Like the previous offering, this year’s institute was funded by the Initiative on Ethical Engagement and Leadership. Established in 2014 with a gift of nearly $2 million from Andy Pleatman ’66, IEEL has brought ethical workshops and other events to campus and inspired the creation of more than 10 courses.
“We decided to expand in 2017 because of student demand and the success of the October 'Ethics in the Sciences' symposium, also funded by the Initiative on Ethical Engagement and Leadership,” said Figueredo. “There was a lot of student interest generated from that, and we thought it was a logical extension for doubling the size of the Ethical Leadership Summer Institute.”
Guyer, a former Haverford visiting professor, scientist, and medical writer who has long been interested in issues of justice in healthcare and elsewhere, said the reading-intensive medical ethics program introduced students to historic cases of injustice, like that of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, as well as more recent ones involving American medical professionals conducting clinical trials in developing countries. She also was able to share her first-person accounts of being on the front lines in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, recalling how societal discrimination in the 1980s affected the medical response.
Students in her course watched Philadelphia (the Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington movie about AIDS), the Michael Moore documentary Sicko, and two films about Henrietta Lacks, whose Hela cancer cells were the first human cells to be immortalized.
The class also took a field trip to Philadelphia's Mütter Museum. An important focus of the course was respect for people and honoring the dignity of individuals, and Guyer has long been interested in how museums represent and honor (or don't) the dead: Are they treated with respect? Does signage explain how or why the person died and how the specimens came to be on display? (She's previously consulted on two museum exhibits that dealt with human biology and medicine and publicly commented on the disturbing Body Worlds exhibit, a touring exhibition of bodies preserved via plastination, in which the provenance of the bodies is undocumented and the bodies are displayed in cartoonish poses.)
The students spent one morning at the museum in a special session designed by the museum’s director, looking at historic medical instruments and touring the exhibits. The Mütter Museum is an archive and history museum associated with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. It is where, in previous centuries, physicians studied anomalous specimens as they tried to understand human physiology, and it can be a challenge, noted Guyer, to view such a museum through a contemporary lens.
Later that day, back at the College, the group had a very thoughtful conversation about why a monument to the past of this sort can be troubling for modern-day visitors. “I found my students’ critiques of the exhibits, their worries about the overall focus of the museum, and the effect these anomalies might have on children walking around without close guidance to be insightful, compassionate and thorough."
The course also featured 14 alumni guest-speakers, including two Mt. Sinai Hospital doctors, former Guyer students, who shared stories of disparities in treatment and how they dealt with them. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley ’77 also came to campus to talk about public health issues, including balancing individual rights versus the public good.
“They had a lot of thought-provoking questions that I’d never thought about before, the sort of questions people earlier in their careers and lives have,” Farley said. “Mostly I interact with people who are in the same field as me and sometimes the things we assume deserve to be questioned.”
Farley said he supported learning opportunities like the Ethical Leadership Program because they allowed for a new sort of thinking.
“Anyone who is in a decision-making role can be blind-sided when ethical problems come up if you don’t recognize them,” he said. “You have to learn how to think through them before you make a decision. … I think it’s good for students to interact with people in the field as well as full-time faculty.”
Eleni Smitham’19, applied for the summer program after taking a course in the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights concentration that had been created under the IEEL. Besides pressing her to think about ethical quandaries, she felt the summer program also provided practical lessons.
“It got us talking about leadership issues, like coming to consensus and working with a team. That’s a lot of what you do in the real world,” said Smitham, who is pursuing a double major in international studies and Spanish and a minor in health studies. “We’re all coming from different places, schools, countries … I appreciated all the different perspectives I hadn’t considered.”