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Weinberg College to Introduce Program in Ethics & Civic Life

The Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences will initiate a new interdisciplinary program called the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life, designed to lay the groundwork for creating more ethical leaders and citizens.

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April 15, 2008 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences will initiate a new interdisciplinary program in academic year 2008-09 for up to 16 Northwestern University sophomores designed to lay the groundwork for creating more ethical leaders and citizens.

Called the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life, the three-year program will begin in the sophomore year with a series of seminars that together will be called "The Good Life." By the end of the sophomore year, the students will have selected a concrete societal problem on which they will focus for the next two years.

The Brady Program was made possible by a generous gift from Deborah Brady, a member of the University Board of Trustees and a 1965 graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and her husband, Larry Brady.

"The overarching goal is to create graduates who feel responsible for a good world," said Laurie Zoloth, an eminent ethicist with appointments in both Northwestern's liberal arts college and medical school who will direct the program.

"We're trying to make Northwestern not only the best university in the world but also the best university for the world," said Zoloth, Weinberg professor of religion and director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society and professor of biomedical ethics and humanities at Feinberg School of Medicine.

Brady Scholars will be expected to spend at least one quarter abroad in their junior year learning how America is perceived by citizens of other nations and how problems, included their selected problem, are identified and solved in other cultures. As seniors, Brady Scholars will be expected to complete a service project on their chosen topic that will create a lasting mark on Evanston or Chicago.

The concept for the Brady Program emerged from discussions Zoloth had with Board of Trustees member Debbie Brady, who asked why so many thoughtful, intelligent leaders fail the basic test of telling the truth and leading with honesty and courage.

For Zoloth, Brady's question reverberated with stories of inside trading on Wall Street, scandals involving journalists, bankers, politicians and clergy members, and bestselling memoirs uncovered as fiction.

The question, said Zoloth, brought into focus the widely publicized case of a South Korean scientist who published peer-reviewed articles reporting the successful cloning of human stem cells. The research, which appeared in the highly respected and peer-reviewed journal Science, was later completely repudiated.

"The scientist and his colleagues had created a total fiction, complete with phony science data and faked informed consent forms from the subjects used in the research," said Zoloth. "What was stunning to me was that this elegantly trained and obviously hardworking scientist became embroiled in a fabric of lies."

The Brady Program is an experimental project designed to bring ethics and moral philosophy back into academic education.

"For centuries, scientists and scholars grappled with large ethical and metaphysical questions about truth, good and evil," said Zoloth. "Today these questions are viewed as less important and less rigorous than asking, say, how a particular molecule functions in a specific context or how a particular text is translated."

"We want our graduates not only to be exquisitely trained in their major but also exquisitely trained in the ethics of citizenship and leadership," Zoloth said. In addition to getting cutting-edge training in their chosen fields, Brady Scholars will learn to be attentive to the ethical challenges in their fields and in using their talent and education to benefit their communities.

In the first year of the program, sophomores will be introduced to the issue of ethics in public life through three quarters of courses called "The Good One," "The Good Neighbor," and "The Good Place."

A distinguished visiting scholar in ethics will be appointed each academic year to teach one of the sophomore "Good Life" courses and deliver three University-wide and community-wide lectures on ethics and public life.

Next year's visiting scholar will be Samuel Fleischacker, professor of philosophy at University of Illinois at Chicago. Fleischacker is author of a number of works, including "The Ethics of Culture."