Learning to Do the Right Thing
The expansion of Haverford’s Initiative in Ethical Engagement and Leadership brings opportunities for students to grapple with ethical questions in a variety of ways.
In today’s world of “fake news,” “post-truths,” and “alternative facts,” Haverford’s Initiative in Ethical Engagement and Leadership (IEEL) may be more important than ever. Funded in 2014 by a nearly $2 million gift from Andy Pleatman ’66, the multifaceted initiative continues to look for ways to integrate ethics into all aspects of life while encouraging the Haverford community to be socially responsible and civically engaged.
“The current political situation in the U.S. is certainly relevant to IEEL,” Pleatman said. This administration will force everyone to look within themselves for answers. Ethical leadership is about understanding both sides and trying to find a sustainable solution with moral principles.”
Thus far, IEEL, which is scheduled to be funded for five years, has hosted a symposium on scientific ethics, created the Ethical Leadership Summer Institute (ELSI) led by visiting professor Neal Grabell ’77, and funded the “Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility” working group on campus. Thanks to the initiative, there are at least 10 new courses with an ethical focus in different disciplines.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the teaching of ethical thought across the curriculum,” College President Kim Benston said. “IEEL’s effect has been really quite dynamic.”
Pleatman works in China, where he helps manage a leather tannery and finishing company and is a representative for the foundation which gives this company’s profits back to society. He knows a lot about staying true to your beliefs in challenging times. A 2015 survey of Chinese businesses by well-respected Charney Research found more than a third of businesses paid bribes in order to operate, despite a government-led anti-corruption campaign. One respondent said bribery is “an unspoken rule of the industry.”
“I’ve never paid people off, never done anything corrupt, and I’ve paid the price with the government and some customers,” Pleatman said. “Integrity and ethics are very important parts of leadership. All of us have some sense of ethics and values, but the test is when we’re confronted with the easy way out.”
Haverford has always encouraged students to engage in fundamental issues of inequality and social justice. Many take the College motto—“Not more learned, but imbued with better learning”—and put their knowledge into action for the greater good.
But the increased focus on ethics is especially relevant now, Benston said.
“The intensification of deception and deceit in the public sphere sharpens the need for education that blends critical thinking with ethical commitment,” he said. “IEEL aims to provide opportunities for confronting ethical challenges while students are forming their moral disposition so they can internalize the capacity for consistent ethical thinking.”
Associate Professor Kaye Edwards’ Community Engagement and Social Responsibility seminar is one of the new courses developed with the ethics initiative funding. In addition to a weekly class that requires presentations, outside reading, critical written reflections, and in-class participation, students are required to volunteer a minimum of three hours per week doing direct service, advocacy, or social change work.
“It’s so important for students to engage in intentional reflection on the work they’re doing in communities,” Edwards said. “The idea is to get them to think more deeply about what’s going on and what are the causes of the problems they’re seeing. There’s a train of thought in our country that says if you’re in poverty, it’s your fault. If you’re sick, it’s bad behavior. People blame the individual without looking at the factors behind their situations.”
During a recent class session, students gave presentations on the outside groups with which they are working. Freda Coren ’17, an anthropology major, is volunteering with the Philadelphia health and wellness organization Puentes de Salud (founded by Haverford alum Dr. Steve Larson ’83).
Coren told the class about Puentes de Salud’s good works and strong sense of community, but also shared her apprehensions about disciplining some of the young people she has been working with: “I’m not their teacher. I’m not their mom. I’m kind of an authority, but I don’t want to be,” she said, taking in her classmates’ feedback.
Later, Coren said she liked having a class that facilitated talking about “how to be ethically, responsibly, and humbly engaged with communities that are very different from ours. This is an opportunity to talk about things I know instinctively, to learn from others, and to discuss what people who study [these issues] have to say about going into a community that’s not yours and trying to be an ally.”
Making volunteerism part of a course’s requirements was also a good idea, she said, lowering hurdles for students who feel they’re too busy with class work to give back.
Amanda Grolig ’19 agreed that the seminar’s byproduct—students giving of their time to help others—was one reason she wanted to take it.
“I wanted to have more time for social justice issues, and this gave me a great opportunity,” said Grolig, who is working with two restorative justice groups and considering a sociology major. “Offering credit for this class speaks to Haverford’s values as an institution. There’s a value in working with others and in the community.”
There’s also a value in working closer to home and on campus. Adam Rosenblatt, a visiting professor in the Peace, Justice and Human Rights interdisciplinary concentration, began organizing “ethics lunches” during the Fall 2016 semester.
“Andy’s gift allows us to do some creative work and experiment,” he said, “[and find out] where are the gaps and where can we offer more?”
The lunches are open to the entire campus community—staff, faculty and students—and Rosenblatt encourages all community members to lead discussions. One goal is to erase the myth that ethics are rules that only apply to certain people at certain times.
“I want the series to showcase how people in our community are grappling with ethical questions all the time, in everyday lives,” he said, “and that it’s valuable to have conversations about ethics outside of the classroom, a particular discipline, or the hierarchy that often governs interactions between students, faculty, and staff.”
Among the topics touched on during lunch discussions: “Care, Wellness and the Campus Health Center” and “Teaching in an Emergency.”
“The theme of the whole thing is critical reflection,” Rosenblatt said. “We can have these conversations and move past the assumptions that people bring to ethics.”
One lunch topic, “The Ethics of International Service and Volunteerism,” was conceived by Maria Padron ’19, who has spent time volunteering in an orphanage in Nicaragua, where she worked with children who had current and past traumas she wasn’t prepared to handle. Padron, who is doing an independent study looking at ethical issues and engagement and disengagement in partnerships, has also started to think about eco-tourism and “voluntourism.”
“A lot of the eco-tourism and voluntourism projects are marketed to young adults as life-changing experiences in which you get to help and do something you can put on your resume,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to look closely at programs before they go, to make sure no one’s being exploited or taken advantage of.”
This is outside-the-box thinking, the kind IEEL was meant to generate.
“This is the College saying, ‘We want to do civic engagement right,’ ” said Janice Lion, associate director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. “You have to be as careful with engagement as you are with research papers and academic scholarship. You have to give it the time it needs.”
IEEL is also moving forward by building on its past successes. The Ethical Leadership Summer Institute had 12 participants last year and will double in size this year. The program, which Haverford students must apply to for admission, will have 12 students in each of two sections—Ethics in Business and the Professions and Ethics in the Sciences.
Those who attended the original 12-day program said they were challenged by the workload and inspired by the Haverford alumni who returned to campus to share real-world examples of ethics in action. That line-up included human rights lawyer Bob Swift ’68, sports agent and author Ron Shapiro ’64, physician and biotech entrepreneur Ted Love ’81, Environmental Protection Agency official Samantha Beers ’84, and Sara Recktenwald ’87, a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Among the topics the alumni speakers addressed were drug pricing, conducting internal investigations into employee wrongdoing, and the allocation of limited law enforcement resources.
A typical 12-hour day during ELSI began with an ethical challenge from Grabell, such as, “If you’re negotiating with someone who is lying, is it OK to lie in return?” The students would analyze the problem using the teachings and theories of well-respected ethicists. The utilitarian might argue that the greater good trumps all, and if one must lie to obtain it, so be it. Someone inclined towards ethical relativism might compare negotiations to a poker game, with players using whatever means possible to win and knowing others are doing the same.
Grabell, a lawyer who spent more than 20 years in the business world, would also present students with real situations he’d encountered as an ethics compliance officer, then ask them to come to a consensus on the correct course of action.
“There’s no one right way to analyze these cases,” Grabell said. “We also talked about how ethics is not only about acting correctly but being willing to act, to step forward, when others are not willing to do so.”
“The obvious moral choice wasn’t always obvious,” said summer institute participant Grace Mangigian ’16. “It wasn’t always clear that this is right and this is wrong … and just because something’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s moral. Everyone’s perspectives helped me realize it’s not only black and white. There’s a lot of gray area, and that’s when you really need to have the ethical background that [the institute] gave us to make decisions.”
In addition to the expansion of the summer institute, IEEL will grow its efforts with the hiring of a full-time program coordinator to support ethical global learning and help cultivate deeper relationships with the community beyond the campus. Laying this groundwork now means the work will continue beyond Pleatman’s gift.
“We’re creating sustainable programming,” Lion said, “making good use of what’s already been developed and moving forward.”
Pleatman said his Haverford education shored up the good values he’d learned from his parents. He wants the same for today’s students and hopes to see the next generation of ethical, socially responsible leaders come from his alma mater.
But in order to reach their full potential, students have to be willing to do things that make them uncomfortable and to fail, he said.
“Current education, whether in high school or college, rewards maximizing strengths, but then you get out and live life and you’re limited by your weaknesses,” Pleatman said. “Ethical leadership comes at a cost. Values are values because they cost something. Being willing to face this cost is what character is all about.”