Monthly Archives: March 2016

Professionals without Borders: Cosmopolitan Ethics and the Global Imaginary

The fourth in The Future of Professional Ethics Workshop series at Indiana University Bloomington will be hosted by The Media School, Friday, April 1, 9:00 am-noon, in Woodburn Hall 111 and online: #FutureEthics

Seminar poster

The keynote speaker is Clifford Christians, Professor Emeritus of Communication, of Media Studies, and Journalism, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Abundant electronic technologies are reinventing the globe as mobile territory, with transit and portability the new normal.  Digital mediation typically means that we exist “everywhere always and nowhere never.”  Professionalism is now a borderless phenomenon in a deep and profound way unknown before in history.  The media are a technological regime at the meaning-edge of the technological revolution; therefore the media professions are a privileged laboratory for understanding professional theory and practice as a whole in the digital era.  The challenge in an age of the instantaneous and momentary is to develop a cosmopolitan ethics, cosmopolitanism known in history as “citizens of the world.”  Now this idea ought to be the defining imperative for teaching, research, and professional practice.  The globe is an imaginary, and instead of it being imagined as neoliberal markets or nation states, Heidegger’s humanocentric philosophy of technology should construct our global imagination.  Within that global imaginary, a cosmopolitan ethics begins with universal human solidarity rather than the traditional ethics of individual autonomy.  A credible commitment to humanity’s intrinsic worth is possible if our education of students and training of professionals is rooted in the liberal arts where questions of life’s purpose and moral philosophy predominate.

Made Possible by  College of Arts and Sciences Ostrom Grants Program.

Sponsored by Association for Practical and Professional Ethics; Department of Business, Law & Ethics, Kelley School of Business; Division of Informatics, School of Informatics and Computing; Maurer School of Law; Media School; Medical Sciences Program; Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics; School of Education; School of Optometry; School of Public and Environmental Affairs; School of Public Health–Bloomington; School of Social Work.

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Hidden Curricula

Hidden Curricula

On February 10th, three instructors from the Medical Sciences Program at Indiana University Bloomington presented a panel on the role of medical education in shaping students into physicians. Mark Bauman, MD, Doug Carr, MD, and Sarah Tieman, MD, encouraged the audience, which included several students interested in pursuing medical education, to share their ideas about what forces help shape the kind of doctor a person becomes.

The list included: core motivations (which vary person to person), relationships with faculty and mentors (preclinical and clinical), formative interactions with patients, financial pressures (tuition & debt), educational standards and metrics, and “pre-formation” or the values and abilities that medical students arrive with from their upbringing and primary education. Bauman opined that as much as nurturing key relationships and experiences as well as knowledge is essential, the core values and motives that students arrive with are most often persistent – what you learned in kindergarten really does make a big difference to who you become later.

Of particular interest for contemplating the future of professional ethics was the discussion of the formal curriculum (knowledge & competencies), and the hidden curriculum (workplace culture and the incentive structure of the for-profit health care system).

Stats in our last blog post showed that fewer than 60% of professionals surveyed across three sectors report an “ethical or strong ethical-leaning” workplace culture. What might the results be for health care system employees? Regardless, even in an ethically congenial working environment, the gap between education and practice demands careful moral reasoning.

The problem of deciding just how much contextual knowledge a newcomer needs to take meaningful – and ethically well-advised – initiatives seems like one that could apply to many professions beyond medicine. On the one hand, newcomers to a workplace can cause unintended harm when they try to assert their ideas before they get to know the local context in real depth – how do you gauge the amount of knowledge you need to fulfill good intentions in an unfamiliar context? On the other hand, for young professionals aware that they may be entering workplaces whose ethical culture needs continued improvement, how do you avoid uncritically assimilating to local norms that really should change?

Tieman pointed out that when students cycle through short-term internships, they often don’t have time to develop the level of either detailed knowledge or investment to try to be problem-solvers – and may walk away without much insight into the struggles of their colleagues and patients. She argued that a benefit of the longer concurrent rotations that IU School of Medicine is now testing out might be that young professionals have enough time to build relationships with patients, to comprehend and evaluate the big picture of how a unit works, and thus to make thoughtful decisions about where to invest their time and energy.

Certainly, the robust culture of reflection discussed at our third #FutureEthics Workshop at IUB would serve to help young professionals be mindful of the gap between their training in a formal curriculum and the informal but extremely powerful hidden curriculum of their profession.

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Workshop Review: Developing and Defending Your Ethical Professional Brand

The third in the Indiana University Bloomington Future of Professional Ethics Workshop Series took place on January 29th, 2016, hosted by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Keynote speaker Trish Tchume explored the question, “How do you walk through the world of work with integrity?” She opened by sharing a conversation she had with a friend about the stress of ethical concerns on the job. Allow me to paraphrase the striking conversation she reported: “You know how you have this sense of a fence in the distance between you and behaving unethically. And most people, they get more and more cautious as they approach that fence. But certain co-workers just go running at it full tilt. They might always stop short, but you hate to work with them because you feel like you’re being dragged along in their mad dash toward the boundaries of what’s right.”

Tchume went on to outline some great ways to make this metaphor more specific and practical:

What makes up the ethical fence? For the nonprofit sector, it is ultimately the IRS tax code and the definition of a nonprofit as an organization that acts “for the benefit of the general public…without a profit motive.”

What’s testing the ethical fence? Tchume cited several things that shape the environment new grads will go into. One is a characteristic of the workforce: widespread sector-agnosticism, meaning many graduates are willing to consider working in nonprofit, for-profit, or government sectors, they are more focused on results than dedicated to a specific way of getting them. However, these sectors all have different legal and ethical fences. They also expose young professionals to vastly different potential payscales and raise the question of how much – or how little – compensation professionals will expect. Finally, the traditional nonprofit worker finds herself in a competitive funding environment that can pit organizations against each other on the one hand, and on the other hand part of a general social trend toward efficiencies of scale and a focus on metrics, which push all organizations to define success in more business-like terms. Tchume pointed to the recent controversy over the Wounded Warrior project as a case study in some of the tensions involved in scaling organizations up.

Finally, Tchume urged listeners to ask “What slows me down as I run screeching toward the fence?” She advocated for the importance of creating reflective time and space to work this deeply. She shared a graphic(1) originally published by Robert Nash that illustrates the several levels of reflection: listening to your own feelings and intuitions to make sure your job is staying in alignment with your personal brand of ethics, considering the ethical culture of your organization and the specific duties of your role, expanding that reflection to the context of the community your organization works in, and finally thinking most broadly about the story you want your life, your career to tell. During Q&A, she suggested that this multi-level can be a way to grapple with issues like staff investment and retention – by seeing yourself and your colleagues as part of a story that includes but also transcends your current organization.

Panelists Jill Long Thompson and Beth Gazely seconded the keynote’s focus on the vital importance of regular reflection, emphasizing that although most people in government and nonprofits want to do good, it’s a mistake to think that ethics just comes naturally – rather, like building muscles, it takes practice. They agreed that reflective space and conversation is vital to build emotional intelligence, develop those ethical muscles, and to contribute to workplace culture. In concert, the speakers made a compelling case that building space for ethical reflection is imperative for professionals, as individuals, as colleagues, as managers, as friends, and as mentors.

This imperative is all the more urgent in light of survey results Tchume shared early in her talk from “58% of nonprofit employees surveyed report a strong or strong-leaning ethics culture in their workplace; 52% in business; and 50% in government.” These numbers drive home the point that young professionals can’t expect the right decisions to always be obvious.


(1)Graphic- Spaces for Developing Your Professional Ethical Brand

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