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Institution of ethics |Faculty essays

Finding truth in the academy .

Reprinted from The TCU Daily Skiff

By Kip Brown ’04

I am at that point in my university education where rational thought is a struggle, and sometimes all I want to do is sit around my apartment and watch soccer on Fox Sports World. Some would call me lazy, yet I am successfully navigating 21 hours of course work and two part-time jobs. Thus, I think my ambivalence toward school comes from a different source.

I think a major part of my ambivalence toward school right now is that there is no truth to be found in the university. Well, there might be some truth, but no one can agree on what it is. At the most basic level, as articulated in the mission statement, TCU is supposed to train me to be an “ethical leader.” Yet there is no one, objective “ethical” way to live that is commonly shared by humankind, let alone Americans. Even my professors cannot agree on what is ethical or unethical.

For instance, I go to economics class three times a week and learn that property rights, individual freedom and near-pure capitalism are among the most veritable truths one can depend on. The next day I go to a sociology class and learn that in a nearly pure capitalistic system, wealth will always tend to funnel toward a small number of owners, and individual freedom is not possible without community concern. The economist counters with the idea that most efforts to make society less disparate cause more harm than good because they mess with the free market. The sociologist responds by arguing that government must counteract the wealth-stratifying effects of the free market; it is not a choice, it is a matter of life and death for many people. And so on, and so on.

As you can see, what constitutes an ethical opinion would vary widely between these two disciplines. Individualism and social justice perspectives tend to render completely different ideas of what is ethical. Yet which one, if any, does TCU promote in its mission statement?

I tend to agree with the sociologist in this argument, while acknowledging many of the very important points the economist is making. Perhaps this kind of thought process is truly what the school means by ethical, the ability to formulate an opinion while not dismissing the other side as evil, wrong or stupid. Whatever the case, it seems like it is up to us to decide what the TCU mission statement implies when it advocates ethical behavior.

In my case, my mission statement would read: “To train people to decide for themselves what constitutes an ethical leader while being mindful of their own presuppositions and biases, taking other perspectives into account and then using this same discerning process in the global marketplace.”

Something tells me the people in charge would never pick my mission statement; it would never fit on a coffee mug.

Kip Brown is a senior religion major from Enid, Okla.

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