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New UC Berkeley Web site on ethics provides information on timely topic to students, faculty, general public
20 August 2002

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

Berkeley -The University of California, Berkeley, has a new Web site that's a one-stop resource for students, researchers and anyone interested in a particularly timely topic - ethics and public accountability.

The new Web site, ethics.berkeley.edu, was created through a joint effort between UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies and Department of Political Science. It recently was launched by the campus's Travers Program in Ethics and Accountability in Government.

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 ethical issues confronted by governmental officials. It is interdisciplinary in nature, and will also address ethics and codes of conduct within the practices of business, medicine and the delivery of health care, as well as journalistic and legal ethics, to name a few.

Many professionals know when a particular act is so extreme that it crosses a line of existing norms of behavior, or perhaps breaks the law, but there is a whole range of issues that exist in a gray area in which difficult ethical choices come into play, said Stimson. Existing professional and public codes of conduct can lose their power and relevance, she said, 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," said Stimson, "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 UC 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 Web site 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.

Among the Web site's features are:

* A list of UC Berkeley faculty members researching and teaching this topic
* A guide to UC Berkeley courses addressing ethics issues
* A bibliography of important books on the subject
* Links to the latest ethics news, organizations involved in this issue, and professional codes of conduct

Stimson said that, because of the recent focus of public attention on major corporate accounting and business scandals, UC Berkeley students are likely to be particularly interested in ethics in business and that the issue is especially relevant in California.

"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," she said. " Now, you are going to see the underside of it and hopefully learn something from it."

The new Web site 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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