April 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 4

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Task Force on Teaching Ethics
Completes Its Work

taskforceFor professors who have been searching multiple websites for resources to teach an ethics course or class, ASA now has your one-stop source. The ASA Task Force on Teaching Ethics Throughout the Curriculum, chaired by Earl Babbie, Chapman University (emeritus), and co-sponsored by the ASA Committee
on Professional Ethics (COPE),
recently completed its two-year charge. Their final product is a website to be used by sociology teachers at all levels (see the "Ethics" link on the ASA homepage or www2.asanet.org/taskforce/ethics). The website contains ethics-related cases for consideration, discussion questions, an annotated bibliography, and other resources for use in the sociology curriculum.

In addition to Babbie, the other Task Force members were Thomas Van Valey, Western Michigan University (emeritus), and Lisa Anne Zilney, Montclair State University. The ASA staff liaison to the project was Minority Affairs Program Director Jean H. Shin.

In 2006, under the advice of former ASA Deputy Executive Officer Carla B. Howery, the Task Force’s mission was to work with members of COPE to "develop curriculum materials to teach students about professional ethics from early in their undergraduate careers through graduate school." According to Babbie, the "aim was to create and make available resources to help teachers bring ethical issues alive in all areas of the sociology curriculum." The Task Force members agreed that developing a website containing a collection of ethics-oriented modules would be the most effective way to do this, as they could be quickly downloaded and easily updated.

Because COPE had begun compiling cases in a separate collection-related project in 1997 (a project that had substantial work done on it but was not completed), there was a base of materials already in place. With the assistance of then-COPE members Lisa Brush, Virginia O’Connell, Douglas Anderton, and Christopher Hill, the Task Force was able to edit many of the existing cases and also find new materials to add to the collection. In addition, calls for case submissions were published in issues of Footnotes in spring and early summer 2008, and further solicitations were made through ASA ChairLink and to the ASA sections’ listservs.

Website Offerings

For Van Valey, the website is aimed at two main populations: teaching faculty and department chairs. He said that "teaching faculty should be able to use the cases in their classes to help students become sensitive to ethical issues, and department chairs can use them to help their faculty do the same."

The new website contains separate case sections by ethics-related topic, by a selection of sociology courses, and a special section for department chairs. The ethics-related case topics include authorship credit, competence, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, harassment, plagiarism, public communication, and numerous others. There are 15 different sociology courses for which cases were deemed especially appropriate by the Task Force and 23 cases that are specifically geared for use by department chairs. For each case, there are also discussion questions to pose as well as some commentary to help start a discussion. Importantly, a full annotated bibliography of articles and books is available to help both teachers and students do research on ethics issues. Because the cases are linked directly to the ASA Code of Ethics, the website should help make more sociologists aware of the Code and its place in the profession.

After seeing a presentation on the website at its February 2009 meeting, ASA Council members unanimously approved it as the final report of the Task Force and encouraged its use by teachers throughout the sociology curriculum. The new website and its contents will be featured in various places this summer at the 2009 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. logo_small


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