Topics (themes, substance…) for your workshop

In an earlier post, I shared some structural ideas for workshops on the future of practical and professional ethics. In this post, I’m tackling the substance.

In the process of planning the events to be held at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB), we considered many themes or topics that could inform a productive workshop.[1] We expect that all of our workshops will draw from multiple perspectives and academic departments. We have found that interdisciplinary conversations are the most productive conversations. Of course events focused on a single profession (or professional specialty, like brain surgeon) are also fair game and may be extremely successful.

We considered focusing on the ethical issues that professionals confront. For example:

  1. Ethical challenges professionals face: financial conflicts of interest and intellectual property; confidentiality and privacy; conflicts of commitment; consent; abandonment; collegiality (professional courtesy, promoting and supporting the profession); the common good (pro bono, discrimination, social justice); expertise and continuing education; fiduciary duties (due diligence, zeal); metrics/evaluation (of professions and professionals) …
  1. How professionals differentially relate to clients (customers, the public); the common good (the community, the republic, the world); competitors; international and global issues; laws and treaties; licensing bodies (ABA, AMA); mass media; the powerful and the weak; technology …

We also thought about organizing our workshops by professions that are complementary or conflict in some way. For example:

  1. Business and government: conflicts between corporate and public interests; cases of, or new opportunities for, cooperation and mutual interests; synergies and complementary roles; gaps, lacunae…
  1. Law and medicine: classic professions with many points of overlap given the legal interests in patient rights and healthcare.
  1. Social work and public health: both professions work with groups with many overlapping interests.

It also seemed that it could be interesting to group professions based on similar patterns of relationships, such as:

  1. Client-based professions: business, law, media (public relations, advertising), social work
  1. Population-based professions: business, education, media (news), medicine, public health
  1. Employer-employee relationships:[2] employee security vs. precarity (e.g., traditional vs. freelance new reporting; competition, negotiation (e.g., tenured vs. adjunct faculty); fundraising as a professional obligation (e.g., academic scientists); differences in role morality between professionals in private practice vs. group practice vs. independent consulting
  1. Intrinsic conflicts of interest such as situations in which the interests of the group served are dissimilar to the source of funding (e.g., news media with government funding); differential interests based on the kind of payment (e.g., salary, wages, commission, shares, grants, reimbursement)…

As of this writing, IUB will hold five workshops in academic 2015-2016. All are in the planning stage.

Three of our workshops have these themes:

  • Professions and professionals in society: Service first, money second – Professions and other occupations exist because they serve human needs. The degree to which professions strive to meet vital needs vary across professions, within professions and organizations, and across time. There can be no doubt that in the United States today, many vital needs are not met, often because providing those needs is not profitable. Providing pro bono services and taking up specialties that serve underprivileged people or underpopulated areas are not practical for many young professionals who are burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. What mechanisms could be created or rehabilitated to fill the niches of need that are currently underserved by professions? How can we identify and overcome stumbling blocks, including those laid down by government, culture, universities, and other powerful forces?[3]
  • Committed professions: Recognizing and overcoming obstacles to service – How can professional corporations, businesses, and organizations uphold the ethical principles that guide their work when regulations and laws, de facto professional norms, or behaviors and beliefs of society at large undermine key ethical responsibilities? What options and obligations do they have to reform ethically dysfunctional forces? What role can individual professionals play in reformation?[4]
  • Navigating professional careers: Challenges in a shifting economy – Young professionals can expect to acquire continually new knowledge and skills, move often between organizations, and acculturate quickly to various professional environments (e.g., the public, private, and non-profit sectors). They will be under pressure to develop a “personal brand” and to map their own career trajectory. How can educators prepare them for logistical challenges as well as the ethical challenges they will meet? [5]

In addition, one workshop will focus on media ethics[6] and the fifth will be embedded in the Martha McCarthy Education Law and Policy Institute in June of 2016.[7]

Feel free to use and customize these topics. We hope you will share your plans and results with the participants of the Year of Conversation on Practical and Professional Ethics.

Ken Pimple


[1] Your event might be a seminar, colloquium, conference, or what-have-you; I use “workshop” to represent all of the options.

[2] Professions such as medicine and optometry continue to be dominated by the salaried professional and well-defined stages of advancement, while others, such as media and higher education, are shifting toward a mix of employment models that encourage young professionals to see themselves as contractors; and law, public policy, and technology graduates may cycle between public, private, and self-directed forms of employment multiple times in a career.

[3] Hosted and organized by the Department of Business Law & Ethics, Kelley School of Business, represented by Josh Perry.

[4] Hosted and organized by the School of Public Health-Bloomington, represented by Lesa Huber.

[5] Hosted and organized by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), represented by Melissa Spas.

[6] Hosted and organized by a committee of faculty members from The Media School.

[7] Hosted and organized by the School of Education, represented by Suzanne Eckes and Janet Decker.

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Ken Pimple

About Ken Pimple

I've been involved in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics before its actual creation. I am coordinating the international conversation on the future of practical and professional ethics for APPE, and organizing five workshops that will be held at Indiana University in Bloomington in academic year 2014-15.

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