Decentering an Engineering Ethics Center

Teaching Ethics 21 (2):199-212 (2021)
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Abstract

In this article we reflect on ethical issues arising amid our efforts over the past four years to set up a university-level engineering ethics center to facilitate faculty, staff, and student collaborations across disciplines. In this account we place considerable emphasis on relations with campus administration, including conflicts arising over the interests of potential donors and research sponsors; state and national political contexts; turf ; and the scope and role of ethics in a STEM-focused public land grant university. We also discuss challenges we faced in communication, both across disciplines in a large university setting, and with administrators inclined to conflate professional ethics with other topics such as technology ethics or public policy concerns. We share discussions we have had among ourselves around what types of alternative structures might facilitate our mission; and how such alternatives might help us resist replication of the kinds of problematic power dynamics we are already witnessing and navigating. It is our hope that our participation in this conversation provides an opportunity for us to learn from others, share what we have learned thus far, and come to a position of greater clarity regarding our intentions and priorities. Most of all we seek moral imagination to identify creative paths forward for a broad set of stakeholders to more deeply encounter professional ethics in discovery, learning, and engagement.

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