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Hillsdale’s Central Hall (Courtesy)

Science pro­fessors must equip their stu­dents to make ethical deci­sions and think about ethics in the context of their sci­en­tific research, said Brian Coppola, pro­fessor of chem­istry at the Uni­versity of Michigan, in a lecture on Sat­urday.

Speaking to about 70 chem­istry pro­fessors who gathered for the Mid­western Asso­ci­ation of Chem­istry Teachers in Liberal Arts Col­leges con­ference — hosted at Hillsdale for the first time this year — Coppola pointed out that stu­dents must be con­sistent within their ethical framework in their sci­en­tific studies.

“You’re inter­ested in the business of defen­si­bility,” Coppola said.

Poor ethical deci­sions — every­thing from pla­giarism and data fal­si­fi­cation to flouting reg­u­la­tions and mis­treating a human or animal subject — have far-reaching con­se­quences, Coppola pointed out.

“There’s the person who’s doing the wrong thing, and there’s the effect on the people around them,” Coppola said.

Coppola said pro­fessors should look for “places one can plug these [ethics-teaching tools] into the program rather than a one-shot deal.” Methods should be sus­tained and incre­mental, he said, rec­om­mending role playing and case studies as an effective way to teach stu­dents about ethical decision making.

“Putting under­grads in the role of having to be teachers tends to stick a little more,” he said, “because you have to take on that respon­si­bility.”

Coppola’s speech con­tributed to the purpose of the con­ference, which was “to take a larger view of how chem­istry con­nects with and affects other dis­ci­plines,” said Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Chem­istry Matthew Young, who helped organize the con­ference.

“If all we focus on is content, then this wouldn’t be a part of chem­istry edu­cation,” Young said, noting that Hillsdale’s liberal-arts emphasis lends itself well to focusing on ethics within sci­en­tific study.

Hillsdale’s chem­istry department includes lec­tures on ethics as part of a required one-credit course for seniors, said Assistant Pro­fessor of Chem­istry Courtney Meyet, adding that she wishes there were time to teach a whole course on ethics.

Noting that Coppola’s talk gave her “a lot of ideas,” Meyet said she might incor­porate a case study into her classes, as Coppola sug­gested.

Young said one of the ben­efits of a liberal arts edu­cation is that it gives stu­dents context for under­standing sci­en­tific content and broader ethical ques­tions.

“We want our stu­dents to be con­necting what they do in chem­istry to the things they’ve studied about ethics, both in how they conduct their own research but also in ways our society wants to utilize the knowledge,” Young said.