New campus website focuses on gray area where ethical challenges reside

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

28 August 2002 | The roster of classes on campus devoted to the study of ethics is a long and varied one, with entries not just from the philosophy department, but from many others such as engineering, political science, even landscape architecture and vision science.

However, there has long been no simple way for an academic in one department on campus to learn about the ethics research of a scholar in another — until now.

The campus’s Travers Program in Ethics and Accountability in Government has launched a new website designed to be a one-stop resource for researchers, students, and anyone else interested in a particularly timely topic: ethics and public accountability.

The new website,, is a joint effort between the Institute of Governmental Studies and the Department of Political Science. The site is expected to be useful not only to researchers and instructors but, given recent headline-grabbing stories about corporate malfeasance and clerical misconduct, to the general public as well.

Shannon Stimson, a political-science professor helping to oversee the project, said the site focuses on ethical issues involving public accountability, but is not limited to questions confronted by governmental officials. Interdis-ciplinary in nature, it will also address ethics and codes of conduct within the practices of business, medicine, journalism, the law, and the delivery of health care, among other professional fields and disciplines.

Existing professional and public codes of conduct can lose their power and relevance, says Stim-son, when they remain tucked away on a shelf somewhere while widespread industry practice sets a new informal and imprecise code. “There are gray areas within the conduct of every public profession with no clear ‘stop’ zone,” she continues, “and practitioners as well as members of the public at large frequently ask, ‘At what level should conduct in these areas be regulated? Within the professions themselves? Within the political sphere? If the latter, then at what level? Local? State? Federal?’ These are issues that people need to think about.”

At Berkeley, a number of faculty members have been researching and discussing such issues, but until now no clearinghouse existed where others could learn of their work. The new website has begun collecting this work, and will build on it as more members of the campus community pass along information about courses, special programs, and conferences.

The website’s features include a list of Berkeley faculty members researching and teaching aspects of the topics, a guide to Berkeley courses addressing ethics issues, and a bibliography of important books on the subject — as well as links to the latest ethics news, organizations involved in the issue, and professional codes of conduct.

Stimson believes that, because of the recent focus of public attention on major corporate accounting and business scandals, Berkeley students are likely to be particularly interested in ethics in business. The issue is especially relevant in this part of the country, she says: “California’s investment and high-technology sectors went on an incredible ride in the ’90s, and there were some real down-sides to that ride. Now you’re going to see the underside of it, and hopefully learn something from it.”

The new website is an outgrowth of the campus’s Travers program, which includes undergraduate courses on ethics and leadership; scholarship and fellowship support for promising students; and an annual conference on salient policy issues.


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