Monday, June 5, 2017

Remembering Vivian Weil

The June edition of Science and Engineering Ethics includes a wonderful article remembering the Center's former director, Dr. Vivian Weil, who passed away in May of 2016. At the meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) in Dallas, Texas in February 2017 a special tribute session honoring Dr. Weil was held, during which four colleagues shared some of their memories and thoughts.  Speakers were: Dr. Michael Davis, Professor of Philosophy at Illinois Tech and Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions, Rachelle Hollander, Director of the Center for Engineering Ethics and Society at the National Academy of Engineering,  Deni Elliott, Professor of Digital Journalism and Design at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and Michael Prichard, Professor Emeritus and Co-Directer for the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society at Western Michigan State.

Thanks again to Science and Engineering Ethics for sharing this with Dr. Weil's friends and colleagues.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Join the Ethics Center for a play and discussion of Queen at the Victory Gardens Theater on May 10th!

Join the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions to watch the play Queen  at the Victory Gardens Theater on Saturday, May 10th at 7:30 pm.  We will also be meeting for dinner at a nearby resturaunt before the performance, details TBD.

All are welcome! 

If interested, please email Kelly Laas at

Synopsis of the play: PhD candidates Sanam and Ariel have spent the better part of the last decade exhaustively researching vanishing bee populations across the globe. Just as these close friends are about to publish a career-defining paper, Sanam stumbles upon an error in their calculations, which could cause catastrophic damage to their reputations, careers, and friendship. Now, Sanam is confronted with an impossible choice: look the other way or stand by her principles and accept the consequences?

Location: Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Ave. Chicago IL 60614

Friday, December 16, 2016

Celebrating the Legacy of Vivian Weil

Dr. Robert Ladenson, an emeritus professor at Illinois Tech and long-time fellow of the Ethics Center wrote a beautiful piece on the legacy of our former director, Vivian Weil, that appeared in abbreviated from  yesterday in the American Philosophical Association newsletter. Below is the complete piece.

Vivian Weil: October 29, 1929 – May 07, 2016
    Vivian Weil taught philosophy at the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) for forty two years (1972-2014).  From its inception in 1976, Vivian was involved actively in Illinois Tech’s Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (CSEP), and she was Director of CSEP for twenty seven years (1987-2014).  The decision to create CSEP forty years ago responded to a growing sense, at the time, among engineers and scientists of being presented increasingly in research, teaching, and work with ethical issues their education and prior experiences did not equip them to address.  For this reason, during the early years of CSEP those who shaped its agenda of activities and projects agreed on two basic objectives: (1) to create useful tools for deliberation about ethical issues in different professions, with special emphasis upon engineering, technology, and science; and (2) to develop educational venues in which students (both undergraduate and graduate), teachers, and practicing members of various professions (especially in technological and scientific areas) could use these tools to explore ethical issues in ways that are well informed, thoughtful, open minded, and open ended.  CSEP’s success in accomplishing these objectives is now acknowledged throughout the world.  CSEP has pioneered and developed educational innovations which became adopted widely, conducted many sponsored research projects that resulted in high quality publications on important topics in practical and professional ethics, and organized numerous conferences, workshops, and public lectures.  It has, in addition collected, curated, and is now digitizing, the world’s largest archive of professional conduct codes and guidelines, the CSEP/Illinois Tech Ethics Code Collection.

Vivian Weil’s leadership was by far the most important factor contributing to CSEP’s record of achievement.  Most, if not all, CSEP projects are collaborations of CSEP staff with, in many cases, Illinois Tech faculty and students, and, in many other cases, researchers, scholars and practicing professionals from outside of Illinois Tech.  Vivian organized, encouraged, and took part in such projects unfailingly with a combination of keen intelligence, enthusiasm, and a truly exceptional affinity for productive collaboration.  Her most influential contribution was to develop and to model such collaboration across disciplinary boundaries many had considered impassable, for which Vivian received warm appreciation and strong recognition from her fellow educators.  In this regard, for example, Julio R. Tema, Associate Director of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Integrated Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, who, as a graduate student, took part in a collaborative project of Vivian’s with nanotechnology researchers, credits the experience as having “changed his career trajectory and his intellectual life.” He writes:  “Though I felt philosophy was somewhat empty without real world involvement, I had not been exposed to much hands-on philosophy.  Vivian changed all that and for this I will be forever grateful.”  During her career Vivian was Chair of the Executive Committee of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, a governing member of the National Institute of Engineering Ethics, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a recipient of the Sterling Olmstead Award of the American Society of Engineering Education.

     An outstanding student from her early years, Vivian graduated as class valedictorian from the academically distinguished Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati.  She then entered the University of Chicago, which her former Walnut Hills fellow student, and future life-long partner in marriage, Irwin Weil was attending.  Vivian received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.  Like many academically talented women of her generation, throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s Vivian subordinated her strong interest in continued study of philosophy in graduate school to caring for and raising her children (Martin, Alice, and Daniel).  In the mid 1960’s, however, Vivian resumed graduate study as a student in the newly created philosophy Ph.D. program of the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), and received her Ph.D. from UIC in 1972, writing a doctoral thesis on diverse aspects of action theory.

     During her early years on the Illinois Tech faculty Vivian wrote papers and published articles in action theory.  With the founding of CSEP in 1976, however, her academic focus shifted entirely in a new direction upon which it remained for the rest of her career.  Practical and professional ethics, especially related to engineering, technology, and science, aligned closely with Illinois Tech’s fundamental mission.  It provided also an opportunity for Vivian to draw upon philosophy as an important conceptual resource to address issues of major social importance, thereby connecting with her abidingly strong sense of moral and social idealism.  (Vivian one told me this sense took hold initially through participating as a teenager in the youth group to which she belonged of the Isaac Mayer Wise Reform Jewish Temple in Cincinnati.)  Furthermore, as exemplified time and time again during her years as Director of CSEP, it also gave full scope to her instinctive pleasure and joy in facilitating and taking part in productive collegial academic collaboration.

     Summarizing concisely Vivian Weil’s accomplishments and contributions, though not easy, can be done.  No words, however, at least none I’m capable of expressing, can convey with adequate fullness and depth of feeling how much those of us who knew and worked with Vivian admired, respected, learned from, liked, and loved her.  We were blessed to have had Vivian as our colleague.

Robert Ladenson (December 07, 2016)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

You are invited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions!

You are invited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the
Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions!
Established in 1976, the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions is one of the oldest ethics centers in the country. The Ethics Center helped pioneer the integration of ethics education in the science and engineering disciplines. Today, the Ethics Center addresses topics such as neuro- and bioethics, responsible research and innovation in science and technology, ethical issues in the professions, and the role of ethics codes in society.
We welcome you to join us in celebrating the rich history of the Ethics Center on its 40th anniversary as we look toward the future!
Anniversary Celebration Details
Date: Thursday, October 13, 2016
Time: 5-6:30 p.m.
Location: McCormick Tribune Campus Center (MTCC) Ballroom
3201 South State Street
Chicago, IL 60616
Please contact Kelly Laas with any questions about the event. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Ethics Center celebration will be preceded by the 2nd annual Lewis College Roundtable, Digital Discourse and Civil Society. Scholars from the fields of digital ethics, social psychology, gaming, and communications will explore what constitutes a civil society in the digital age.
How can we promote ethical behavior and social good in the digital space? Has the internet fostered more extreme viewpoints on controversial issues? Does the perceived anonymity in the digital space increase bullying and toxicity in online communities? Are the rules of etiquette and civility different online? 
The Roundtable will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the MTCC McCloska Auditorium.  For more information, please visit the Lewis College Roundtable website.   |    312.567.3017   |

Monday, September 12, 2016

Center receives $335,800 from National Science Foundation for developing ethical cultures in STEM research

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (CSEP) at Illinois Institute of Technology has been awarded a three-year, $335,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project focused on developing ethical cultures in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research. Under the guidance of the project’s principal investigator Elisabeth Hildt, director of CSEP and Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Humanities, and the Co-PIs Kelly Laas, CSEP’s librarian, Eric Brey, Duchossois Leadership Professor and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Christine Miller, Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation at Stuart School of Business, Illinois Tech graduate students in STEM fields will develop discipline and laboratory-specific ethical guidelines aimed at providing support in handling ethical issues important to the lab environments in which they work. The goal of this project is to positively influence researchers’ understanding of ethical research and practice issues, enhance their handling of these issues, and promote an ethical culture in their respective labs and across campus.

  “With this project we plan to develop a broadly applicable module that helps cultivate an ethical culture in experimental labs at IIT and elsewhere,” says Elisabeth Hildt.

The project entitled, “A Bottom-Up Approach to Building a Culture of Responsible Research and Practice in STEM,” focuses on the creation of ethics codes-based guidelines for STEM researchers. Starting from discipline-specific codes of ethics, available through CSEP’s Ethics Codes Collection (graduate students in four different STEM departments at Illinois Tech will develop guidelines on responsible conduct of research (RCR)-related issues they consider of relevance to their laboratory practice. The process of developing these guiding principles will cultivate a high level of ownership in participating students, and help make the guidelines an integral part of the orientation of new lab members.

This is a highly collaborative project with involvement from Armour College’s Departments of Biomedical Engineering (Eric Brey) and Chemical and Biological Engineering (Sohail Murad), and the College of Science’s Departments of Physics (Grant Bunker) and Biology (Andrew Howard) on this project. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Panama Papers: A Blog Post from a member of IPRO 497

This summer, we will be sharing a series of blog posts from the undergraduate students who worked with us on a semester-long project looking at redesigning the Ethics Codes Collection.

The first are the reflections of Zachary Pergrossi, a senior in finance who became interested in ethical codes in accounting, finance and business.

The release of the documents from the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca (see, dubbed “The Panama Papers”, has caused quite a bit of controversy surrounding the
parties involved and the ethical breaches they committed. The leak has already seen lasting
repercussions for notable figures worldwide. Ties to political leadership (including Russia’s Vladimir
Putin and the Prime Ministers of Iceland, Britain, and Pakistan, among others) 1 have already caused
sudden responses from the public. The resignation of Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, in particular, showed the response that a breach of ethics can cause. As a member of Iceland’s Progressive party, a violation of the public’s trust brought non-partisan support for nation-wide protests. Results like these come from a clear breach of the ethical codes our societies subscribe to, but these were not the only codes bent or broken during the revelation of the Panama Papers.

Many codes were broken in the years-long process to reveal the information. So why, then, is the
breach of code by the whistleblowing hacker 2 celebrated while those of Mossack Fonseca and its clients are reviled? A close look at each code can help us to understand the public sentiment toward this issue.

The first thing to note about this situation is that Mossack Fonseca has no specific code of ethics
whatsoever. Their site boasts of their services and accomplishments but does not specify the codes they operate under. However, following the leak, Mossack Fonseca detailed some of the rules they follow in dealing with clients:
we conduct due diligence on clients at the outset of a potential engagement and on an ongoing
  • we routinely deny services to individuals who are compromised or who fail to provide information we need in order to comply with “know your client” obligations or when we identify other red flags through our due diligence;
  • we routinely resign from client engagements when ongoing due diligence and/or updates to sanctions lists reveals that a party to a company for which we provide services been either convicted or listed by a sanctioning body;
  • we routinely comply with requests from authorities investigating companies or individuals for whom we are providing services;
  • we work with established intermediaries, such as investment banks, accountancies and law firms, as part of the regulated global financial system. 3
Despite these standards, Mossack Fonseca’s clients are some of the most prolific tax- and regulation-
dodgers worldwide. The failures of codes of ethics to prevent situations like this are one of the most
common arguments against the documents. Some argue, even, that “aspirational” codes of ethics
simply reveal the organization’s commitment to not being able to follow their own code. A code made simply ‘for show’ will do nothing to prevent unethical behavior. Unfortunately, many codes seem to be made as public relations pieces rather than a governing document. A strong code, though, provides protections for both professionals and the people they interact with.

Where Mossack Fonseca’s code failed them, the journalists’ did not. Each was a member of the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and held to a strict set of principles about how the information was to be handled. While journalists from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung had access to the data for over a year, the maintenance of their code of ethics allowed them to work with ICIJ members during this time for over a year without information being leaked to the public. A concerted effort from the ICIJ members allowed them to release the information in unison to maximize the effect of the documents. This coordination was important to the journalists because of the potential harm a mistake could cause. Naming an individual in a case like this was a serious matter. Beyond that, the nature of the information could potentially put the journalists at risk for retribution; only a simultaneous release could protect them, and only a strict code of ethics could accomplish that.

Even now, the journalists stick to their ethics. Asked to release the raw data, employees of the
Sueddeutsche Zeitung explained that they could not:

“We are not going to release the raw data and we have valid reasons to do so. The source
decided to give the data to journalists and not, i.e., to Wikileaks. As journalists, we have to
protect our source: We can’t guarantee that there is no way for someone to find out who the
source is with the data. That’s why we can’t make the data public.

And as responsible journalists we also stick to certain ethical rules: You don’t harm the privacy
of people, who are not in the public eye. Blacking out private data is a task that would require a
lifetime of work - we have eleven million documents!” 4

While weak ethical stances allowed Mossack Fonseca’s clients to dodge taxes and regulation on a global scale, strong ethical codes allowed the Panama Papers to make an impact on the corruption of the world’s elite. A code of ethics made to be seen will prevent nothing, but a code of ethics meant to be followed will make all the difference.

To bring one of the latter type to your company or organization, please see the IIT Ethics Code
Collection’s resources on writing and improving codes of ethics.

1 iceland.html
2 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers
3 Regarding-Recent- Media-Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf
4. _who_worked

References: 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers iceland.html Regarding-Recent- Media-
Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl mentioned as an effective teaching tool in latest Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Report

Last week, the  Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission)  published a new report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology that highlights the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl as an effective teaching tool for college students to learn about ethics.

Last year,  emeritus professor Dr. Robert Ladenson had the opportunity to speak at a roundtable discussion organized by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues that focused on brainstorming ideas on education and deliberation. Dr. Ladenson discussed how the Ethics Bowl has been used around the country by high schools and universities to help students not only to learn about important ethical issues, but also deliberate and discuss these issues in the form of a competition.

The report describes the Ethics Bowl as, 
"...the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl teaches college students how to engage in ethical reasoning by deliberating in teams about specific cases, including bioethics topics. The Ethics Bowl challenges the traditional pedagogical approaches and requires students to engage with the topic and deliberate together, each bringing her own values and ethical reasoning skills to bear. It raises the stakes by using team competition, engaging students in active learning. " (p.77)