At the Center
Capturing the lively discussions, presentations, and other events that make up the daily activities of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 4:03 PM
Julia, a college student, is concerned to learn that her boyfriend Ricky regularly checks out pornographic websites on his computer. That's the premise in the newest case study from the Center's Big Q project, an online dialog for undergrads about the ethical issues in their everyday lives. To Julia, it feels like Ricky is cheating on her. Ricky says it means nothing.
You can join the conversation online. The best response from a student receives a $100 Amazon gift certificate.
Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 4:18 PM
Santa Clara University does not presently have an honor code although last year, Associated Student Government studied the issue, approved a draft code, and found that a majority of SCU undergraduates favored adopting an honor code.
SCU senior and Center Hackworth Fellow Aven Satre-Meloy is building on what was accomplished last year. Please come to this meeting to review the draft text of the code, hear results of a survey of students undertaken this fall, and more.
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 4:49 PM
In all the debate about the middle class and the rich in the recent election, very little attention was paid to those at the bottom of the income ladder in the United States. John Ifcher, assistant professor of economics at SCU, talked with the Ethics Center's Emerging Issues Group this week about how low income Americans are faring.
First, Ifcher reviewed the Clinton-era welfare reform, known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. That piece of legislation made work a requirement for receiving assistance and sanctioned recipients who did not meet the requirement. It also put a five-year lifetime limit on access to government assistance.
Ifcher summarized the results: "These reforms came out of a period of growing caseloads, and they indisputably cut caseloads by about half. The percentage of single mothers working went from the high 60s to the low 80s. The best evidence is that the reforms didn't really have positive or negative effect on the income or consumption of people who went from welfare to work, but there is some evidence that they did increase the subjective well-being of former recipients. Economists generally model work as a negative thing, but happiness research says the opposite, that people get a lot of meaning and value from their work, so that may be why subjective well-being improved."
Have these improvements lasted through the Great Recession? Ifcher said it's still too early to make firm conclusions. "Anecdotal evidence suggests it's harder for people to get on welfare than it used to be. The rolls have not grown substantially, as they did in previous periods of recession, but the number of food stamp recipients has gone up. We know that the poverty rate has gone up from about 12.5 to about 15 percent. During this recession, as in other recessions, all the vulnerable populations were most likely to lose their jobs—young people, people of color."
Ifcher has started a research project to look at the subjective well-being of single mothers during the recession, a complement to his 2008 research on " “The Happiness of Single Mothers After Welfare Reform.”
"We're at a really challenging time," he said. "I'm definitely worried about the safety net."
Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 9:03 AM
The public can have an impact on the truthfuness of political disourse, according to Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler.
In an op-ed in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Nadler writes,
Our civic responsibility extends beyond the election, and we need to start at the local level.
Voters need to study the ballot, and consult with nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters that research the issues, making recommendations without political bias. Over time, we can pick better local candidates, because term limits means council members often end up as senators and members of Congress.
We can press them to back up their statements, explain how they can accomplish what they have promised, and speak of their own record rather than tearing down an opponent's.
Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 4:47 PM
Students at Santa Clara University are invited to enter a contest to design an Ethical Decision Making App drawing on the Center's Framework for Ethical Decision Making.
A $500 prize will be awarded to the SCU student or team of students that creates the most creative, well-designed, accessible app allowing users to work through an ethical decision using the tools provided by the Ethics Center. The deadline for submissions is April 5, 2013.
Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 9:45 AM
Santa Clara University joins the world of open online education with the premiere of a business ethics course exploring the common and difficult decisions that confront professionals. This course will explore such daily dilemmas as pressure from management to falsify reports, resume white lies, and bullying rivals to get ahead.
Partnering with the new Instructure open online platform Canvas Network, Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU, will teach “Business Ethics for the Real World.” The network is another outlet for the growing popularity of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. The idea is anyone with Internet access can enroll in courses taught by some of the brightest minds in the world.
“We look forward to pioneering the MOOC concept both for Santa Clara and for the topic of business ethics,” says Hanson. “We can give the public a feel for the quality of education Santa Clara University students receive every day. We’re also thrilled the ethical framework we developed at the Markkula Center will be highlighted.”
While MOOCs have primarily focused on math and science, “Business Ethics for the Real World” will explore the role of ethics in business and offer practical advice on making decisions in the work place.
“This course is more than a standard lesson in business. It is driven by what we have learned from tackling real ethical issues with Silicon Valley companies. Anyone from San Jose to Shanghai can participate in the ethical dialogue taking place in Silicon Valley,” says Hanson.
While the course includes some ethical theory, it is designed to be approachable by anyone from the seasoned manager to someone just beginning their career. The course is the first of several being planned at Santa Clara. Future MOOC’s will address areas of SCU’s special expertise, including social entrepreneurship.
Enrollment will be limited to 500 people for the pilot course running Feb. 25 to March 25. The University and Instructure are hoping to launch classes with unlimited enrollment after the pilot. Ten other schools, including Brown University, are participating in the initial course offering. Enrollment is open now on Canvas.net.
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 3:14 PM
Ann Ravel, chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, discussed the effect of the Supreme Court's Citizens United case on the 2012 elections, especially at the state and local level, at a recent presentation to the Ethics Center's Public Sector Roundtable.
Ravel stressed the importance of transparency in the process. Disclosure, she argued, allows voters to understand where the money comes from so that they can assess the validity of campaign claims. "We have to have enough disclosure so people know what they need to know about the candidates," she said.
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 2:00 PM
While the state of Washington allows government officials to accept free travel and events, the amount and nature of travel by the state's attorney general are raising eyebrows. "Rob McKenna has accepted $184,000 worth of free travel and events since becoming attorney general in January 2005," according to the Seattle Times. Several trips were paid for by conservative political groups.
Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler commented for the Times: "When you take an oath of office, you vow to put the public interest first....Political trips or trips paid for by a political party or to rub elbows to advance a political career are inappropriate," she said. "There's a fine line between being an officeholder and being a candidate. You are supposed to be doing the public's job."
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 10:55 AM
Twenty states have laws against making false campaign statements, but if Ohio is a typical example, the law is not stringently enforced. "In the last decade, the commission has not referred a single case involving a false statement to a county prosecutor," according to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Interviewed for the article, Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler, talked about the effect of unchecked lying on the political process: "The problem is that this leads to an eroding of people's confidence in government. People throw up their hands and say, 'I don't believe any of them,' and it decreases voter registration and turnout."
Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 4:02 PM
In a dialog today on California's Proposition 34, which would abolish capital punishment in the state, Ellen Kreitzberg, professor of law, and Lawrence Nelson, associate professor of philosophy, debated the merits of the ballot initiative. [Listen to the podcast
Kreitzberg is the director of the Death Penalty College at SCU, a summer training course for lawyers assigned to represent defendants in capital cases. She outlined the economic argument against capital punishment, citing a report from the Legislative Analyst that estimated savings to the state from abolishing the death penalty at $1.3 million.
She also said that if the initiative does not pass, California will immediately begin building a new death row facility at a cost of $550 million. Finally, she pointed to a report from Arthur Alarcon, senior judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who is not opposed in principle to capital punishment. Alarcon writes, "Our research has revealed that $4 billion of state and federal taxpayer money has been expended administering the death penalty in California since 1978, with a cost in 2009 of approximately $184 million above what taxpayers would have spent without the death penalty…"
Kreitzberg said one could believe in the death penalty in the abstract but still feel that it is not worth the cost because there is no evidence that it makes us safer. Forty five percent of homicides and 55 percent of rapes in the state go unsolved. Resources saved by abolishing the death penalty could be focused on improving these statistics.
Nelson argued, however, that there is no long-term guarantee that monies saved through the initiative would go into law enforcement. Generally, Nelson urged that cost not be the main basis on which the death penalty is evaluated, a point on which Kreitzberg agreed.
Nelson focused on the question, Can the death penalty be defended ethically? Kreitzberg's answer was no. First, she argued that recent exonerations show the death penalty will inevitably be imposed on someone innocent, to which Nelson responded that no one executed in California has ever been shown to be innocent.
He pointed out that many people convicted of capital crimes are despicable; 90 of the 720 men currently on death row tortured their victims before killing them. "Some murderers richly deserve to be taken off the face of the earth," he said.