New courses to help SMU students shape ethical dialogue in variety of fields

Nine new courses to be taught at SMU beginning this fall aim to address real-world ethical challenges.


DALLAS (SMU) – Nine new courses to be taught at SMU beginning this fall aim to address real-world ethical challenges from the political science realm to the video game industry.

SMU faculty members gather in Taos for an ethics course development and writing workshop.
SMU faculty members gather in Taos for an ethics course development and writing workshop.

With $128,000 in grants from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, many of the 25 faculty members who developed the courses or have sponsored ethics-focused research grants gathered March 19-22 in Taos for a ethics course development and writing workshop. 

“We have long felt that professors are among the most influential people in a student’s college life. If their professors write about, talk about and teach ethics, students will see ethics as important and worthy of attention,” says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk. 

The grants are part of a half-million dollar, five-year incentive award offered by the Maguire Center to professors for course development and research publishing. (For recipients, see below.)

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson says his course “Ethics of Revolution and Civil Disobedience” will reflect current political issues students see in everyday life. 

“Ethical-issues discussions surrounding resistance to the state are especially timely, given the current debates over conscientious objections to vaccination, the Obamacare contraception funding mandate and same-sex marriage,” he says. 

“As our society continues to become more and more diverse in its mix of religious and philosophical beliefs, a growing number of Americans will find that they have significant moral objections to some aspect of government policy,” Wilson says. “When are they duty-bound to subordinate their own consciences and obey, and when are they ethically permitted, or even obligated, to resist? That’s the core question this class will explore.”

SMU Religious Studies Professor G. William Barnard will guide students through the complexities of world religions “to more consciously articulate and address difficult moral issues within the matrix of their own lives,” he says.

The ethics courses will be a staple in preparing students for future jobs, says Milan Sevak, professor and program director for Educational Leadership in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. His “Ethical and Moral Leadership” class will strengthen the decision-making skills of future educators.

classroom“While ethical leadership is critical for any organization, the stakes are particularly high when it comes to pre-K-through-12 educational institutions, which are inherently charged with a moral purpose of educating future generations,” Sevak says. “Given the range of internal and external stakeholders, educational leaders have a broader community and societal impact – which heightens the complexity of their roles and their importance in sustaining and enhancing our nation’s democratic ideals.”

Regarding the video game industry, “Given that it has one of the largest global audiences in entertainment, it is imperative that our students have practiced the ethical discussions they will face,” says Mark Nausha, SMU Guildhall production faculty/director of operations.

Statistical Science Associate Professor Monnie McGee says her master’s level course “Ethics and Data Science” will underscore the importance of ethically gathering, storing, analyzing and disseminating information from large databases. “To paraphrase FDR, ‘With big data comes big responsibility,’ ” she says. “It’s an unfortunate reality that laws protecting consumers from data exploitation are woefully inadequate for the current situation. We want our students to realize this and to be instruments for change as they graduate.” 

McGee’s course, and those developed by her colleagues, will significantly enhance the student experience at SMU, she says, allowing it to shape the conversation on ethical and moral dilemmas facing each field.

SMU faculty receiving grants ($10,000 each) for new ethics courses: 

  • G. William Barnard, Religious Studies: “Living From the Heart (of It All): An Exploration of Mystical/Spiritual Ethics”
  • Olga Colbert, World Languages and Literature: “Leadership and Ethics in Literature”
  • Bradley Klein, Embrey Human Rights Program: “Ethics and Human Rights”
  • John Kiser, Kathy Hubbard and Panagiotis Papamichalis, Hart Center for Engineering Leadership: “Engineering Ethics Toolkit”
  • Thomas Mayo, Dedman School of Law: “Public Health Law and Ethics”
  • Monnie McGee, Statistical Science: “Ethics and Data Science”
  • Mark Nausha, Guildhall: “Ethics in Game Development and the Entertainment Industry”
  • Milan Sevak, Education, Policy and Leadership: “Ethical and Moral Leadership”
  • Matthew Wilson, Political Science: “The Ethics of Revolution and Civil Disobedience”

SMU faculty receiving grants ($4,000 each) for research articles:

  • Scott Baker, Hiba Rahim and Annie Wright, Center on Research and Evaluation: “A Community-Embedded Response to a Food Desert Problem: Evaluation of a School-Based Scarcity Intervention”
  • James Calvert and Lindy Fields, Psychology: “Informed Consent Procedures With Cognitively Impaired Patients: A Review of Ethics and Best Practices”
  • Maria Dixon and Stephanie A. Martin, Communication Studies: “Please Sir, May I Have Another?”
  • Jeffrey Engel, Center for Presidential History: “When Genocide is Best: The Ethics and Wisdom of American Inaction in a Post-Cold War World”
  • Cara Jacocks, Communication Studies: “The Ethics of Delivering a Prenatal Trisomy 21 Diagnosis – An Exploration of the Factors That Influence Parental Decisions in the Aftermath of Diagnosis”
  • Luigi Manzetti, Political Science: “Explaining People’s Support for Corrupt Incumbents in Latin America 2004–12”
  • Lynne Stokes, Alan Elliott and Jing Cao, Statistical Science: “Teaching Ethics in Statistical Consulting”

For more details, visit or call 214-768-4255.

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