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The Undergraduate Minor Program in Ethics and Leadership

The minor in Ethics and Leadership is an interdisciplinary program designed to provide students with a unique set of marketable skills and abilities for effective, values-based leadership. A core set of required courses introduces students to basic issues in the field of leadership studies and provides opportunities to put ideas and theory into practice. Elective courses from a variety of disciplines allow students to integrate the minor into their plan of study and connect it to their personal interests while exploring the connection between ethical leadership and social responsibility.

What is ethics?

Ethics is about right and wrong, good and bad. Philosophers in both the Western and Eastern intellectual traditions have long asked fundamental questions about the nature of ethics: What does it mean to say that an action is morally right or wrong? Is it something about acts themselves that make them right or wrong, or is it the consequences of actions that are important? How important is one’s motive or intention in doing the right thing? Is there an ultimate Good for human beings, and if so, how can we come to know it? And why be moral, anyway? Of course, there has been no shortage of attempts to answer such questions, and philosophers have developed a number of theories designed to provide standards regarding how we ought to act in the various dimensions of our lives. Among such theories are utilitarianism, which emphasizes the consequences of moral decisions; deontological theories, which emphasize duties and obligations; rights theories, which emphasize fundamental rights shared by all human beings; the common good approach, which focuses on the idea of a flourishing human community; and virtue theories, which emphasize the importance of those character traits necessary for a meaningful and flourishing life.

What do ethics have to do with leadership?

Leadership involves the ability to direct people toward the achievement of a common goal; an effective leader is one who succeeds in doing just that. But effectiveness is only part of good leadership. As the leadership scholar Joanne Ciulla has noted, “part of a leader’s job is to help others imagine morally better ways of living and doing things. … without moral imagination, leaders cannot create visions, understand their moral obligation to others, or implement their beliefs and values in the ways that they lead and in the initiatives that they take for change and transformation” (“Moral Imagination,” in Encyclopedia of Leadership, ed. G. Goethals et al., Sage Publications, 2004). Effective leadership, in other words, needs to be guided by a moral compass informed by ethical principles, skill in ethical reasoning, and a developed moral imagination.

How will the program help me?

Employer surveys regularly identify leadership skills and a commitment to ethical values as crucial to workplace success. The minor program helps meet employer expectations through the development of leadership skills such as critical and creative thinking, personal management, and organizational effectiveness, and through directed conversations about ethics, leadership, and social responsibility. Students participating in the program will thus increase their marketability to an employer pool that values such skills and experiences; students will also graduate with the knowledge and ability to connect their discipline to the community in which they are working.