Jonathan Marks: Teaching

I usually teach courses exploring bioethics, neuroethics, the intersections between health and human rights, and between law and ethics. During the Fall 2012 semester, I am teaching a course on ethical leadership at Penn State (PHIL 119).  I am providing a list of some assigned and additional readings from my syllabus here as a resource for other instructors.  If you have thoughts on the readings, I urge you to share them with me so that I can refine and improve the course before teaching it again.  Please post comments or email suggestions to me.  My email address may be found on my contacts page.

Many thanks!

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Ethical Leadership Syllabus by Jonathan H. Marks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Course Description 

In the wake of the release of the Freeh Report, there is no more important issue facing the Penn State community than the question of ethical leadership.   This course, which provides an introduction to theories of ethics and leadership, will enable us to reflect more deeply and critically upon the current situation at Penn State, and help us develop an understanding of ethical leadership more broadly—in business, politics, and the professions.  This course draws on material from the Freeh Report and the Gerald Sandusky trial.  It also explores concepts of ethical literacy, moral blindness, wrongful obedience, bystander responsibility, institutional ethics, loyalty and dissent, moral exemplars and integrity.  This is an interdisciplinary course that seeks insights from literature, film, biography, history, and new social science research (in particular, from the emerging field of “behavioral ethics”)—as well as philosophical texts.

Structure of the Course

Ordinarily, ethics courses begin by giving students grounding in ethical theory, and then work through case studies to give students practice applying ethical theories to practical problems.  We begin this course in a different way.  We start with a set of ethical questions raised by recent events at Penn State, and then work through ethical theories to explore how they might enrich our understanding of these questions, and how the theories and methods might enable us to better address them.  We also draw on literature, film, social science, history and biography.  Although we apply what we learn throughout the course to recent events at Penn State, we also explore comparisons with other examples of ethical leadership and failures thereof.  These examples are drawn from a variety of spheres including business, politics and the professions.  At the end of the course, we return to events at Penn State to explore how our understanding has been enriched.

Course Schedule

Week 1:  The Freeh Report and Ethical Leadership at Penn State

Weeks 2-3:  What is Ethics? Moral Literacy, Ethical Theory, and a 'Toolkit'

Week 4:  What is Ethical Leadership?

Week 5:  On Integrity and Corruption

Week 6: An Introduction to Moral Psychology and Behavioral Ethics

Week 7:  Moral Blindness and Contrived Ignorance

Week 8:  Bystander Responsibility and Identifiable Victims

Week 9:  Ethics and Proximity

Week 10:  Role Morality and Wrongful Obedience

Week 11:  Of Gods, Demons, and Mortals:  The Quest for Moral Exemplars

Week 12: Institutional Ethics and Organizational Perspectives

Week 13: Ethics and Societal Change

Week 14: On Loyalty and Dissent: Whistleblowing and Civil Disobedience

Week 15:  Review and Additional Case Studies

Readings on the events at Penn State include:

The Freeh Report (2012)

Spanier Response to Freeh Report

Sandusky Presentment (2011)

Breakdown of Sandusky Verdict (2012)

President Erickson's Statement on the removal of Joe Paterno's statue

Penn State "Fact Sheet" on NCAA Sanctions (August 2012)

Malcolm Gladwell, In Plain View (New Yorker, 2012)

Michael Bérubé, Why I Resigned the Paterno Chair (Oct. 2012)

In addition to numerous news articles and op-eds in the New York Times, the Centre Daily Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education (among others), there are a number of scholarly publications.  For a collection of scholarly essays on this topic, please click here.