Category Archives: Annual Ethics Symposium

18th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium Held Feb. 16 at Monona Terrace:  Learning the “Right Way to React”

Submitted by Carole Trone; photos by Margaret Murphy

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“Oh, I like your pin!” exclaimed Sun Prairie High School student Thomas Collins. Thomas had interrupted his own polite response to my question about why he had signed up for this year’s Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium. Thomas and more than 200 other fellow high school juniors from 23 area high schools gathered on Friday, February 16, 2018, for the 18th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium, underwritten by the Madison Rotary Foundation. Thomas and fellow classmate Jacob Monforte readily confirmed that Rotary was a familiar organization to them as they rattled off different community events that they had participated in. The Ethics Symposium, however, drew their particular interest. They jumped at the chance to sign up because it was important to them to learn “the right way to react.” Conversations with many other students that day confirmed that these young people were seeking guidance. No strangers to difficult situations, Friday’s gathering of students from across the Madison area embraced the opportunity to learn more about ethics and from each other.

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This year’s Rotary Ethics Symposium chair was Dave Scher, who coordinated the day’s program with the help of 20 fellow Rotarians and the Rotary office staff. For the planning committee, this day was the culmination of months of discussions about the most effective ways to share the Rotary ethical framework through scenarios that were ethically complex and would resonate with high school students. The thoughtful planning paid off. Members of the Edgewood College Theatre Group started the morning by acting out three different ethical dilemmas: 1) a group classroom project where one student slacked off; 2) a dilemma about whether a sports team should kneel during the national anthem; and 3) reporting a felony conviction on a college application form. Many different students shared their responses and judgments to follow-up questions skillfully posed by members of the Edgewood College Theatre Group. Notably, not every comment uniformly confirmed the same judgments, but every comment was met with respect by the large group of peers. Unconditional respect was one of several discussion ground rules outlined in the program and stressed by the Rotary facilitators, and students readily complied.

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Students buzzed with conversation as they left this large gathering and regrouped for the next three sessions. For the remainder of the morning, students gathered in smaller groups of about 18-20 students for about 55 minutes per session to explore and discuss three different dilemmas: 1) a sexting scenario; 2) a student-teacher equality ratio policy; and 3) the ethics of taxing soda and sugary drinks. Students worked through the dimensions of each dilemma by applying the Rotary framework for Ethical Decision-Making:

     Recognize an Ethical Issue
     Obtain Information about the situation
     Test Alternative Actions
     Act Consistently
     Reflect on your Decision After Acting
     Yield on your Ethical Judgments

The planning committee strategically assigned students to specific sessions in order to connect as many different students from different schools as possible. “Mixing it up” proved to bring one of the most valued dimensions of the day. Megan Andrews of Middleton High School shared that this was her second year of participating because of scheduling conflict for a junior who was unable to attend last year. Megan sought out the chance to attend this year because she found the mix of other ideas from other students to be so insightful. Other students I talked to also felt that the new connection to students from other schools was a highlight of the day. These students craved the chance to learn more about other schools and students who were so close and yet completely unknown to them. One Monona Grove High School student marveled that it was the Symposium that actually connected her to a rich conversation with a La Follette student, “and we’re just down the road from each other!”

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Building stronger relationships in our community is at the core of Rotary and so it’s not surprising that the Ethics Symposium has attracted many faithful Rotarian volunteers over the years. Rotary member Karla Thennes laughed when I asked her why she volunteered. “Well, last year a member of my Porchlight board suggested that I participate, but after that first year I didn’t need any nudging. The kids are amazing! I don’t remember being challenged like this when I was in school. The students who gather here are leaders—you see a real overlap between the students here at the Symposium and the students who are awarded Rotary scholarships.”

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Fellow Rotarian Stacy Nemeth agreed. Stacy has volunteered for at least the past eight years of the Symposium, adding that “it’s my favorite Rotarian day of the year.” Stacy has chaired the committee in the past and served this year as a session facilitator with Karla. It’s a big time commitment on a weekday, but with rewards that are so much greater. “You hear so many negatives about today’s youth but then you come here and realize that we’re all going to be fine with these students in charge.” Stacy also observed that it’s a one-day event that returns so much throughout Dane County. “These students go back to their schools with this new knowledge and they share it with their classmates. It’s such a valuable and unique contribution that Rotary brings to the schools.”

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Lunchtime conversations confirmed Stacy’s point. Students from several participating high schools noted that they had no opportunities to have these kinds of discussions in their busy school lives. They valued the time to reflect and also the time to talk and learn from each other. Rotarian Michelle McGrath’s post-lunch invitation for students to share what they learned readily confirmed how much students gained from the day. Dozens of students shared comments like, “I learned that there’s a lot more to consider than your gut,” and “Sometimes what is easy to do is not always right.” With cell phones in remarkably little use at any point during the day, it was clear that students were hungry for this kind of engagement.

For more photos, visit our club’s Facebook page.

Also, Neil Heinen featured our Ethics Symposium during his February 16th editorial on Channel 3000.  Click to watch it.    

2017 Ethics Symposium Highlights

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

dsc_0106More than 200 students from 20 area high schools assembled at Monona Terrace Convention Center on February 17 for the 17th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium, underwritten by our club’s Madison Rotary Foundation. They were welcomed by 2017 Ethics Symposium Chair Steve Johannsen, who noted that we all face ethical dilemmas several times a week. He explained that often it’s a small matter, for example, what to do when your cell phone starts ringing in a meeting. Other dilemmas can be gut-wrenching. Steve introduced the students to a hierarchy of four stages of ethical decision-making:

  • Stage 1: What action benefits me most? (Egoism)
  • Stage 2: What actions would my friends or group members think I should do? (Social Group Relativism)
  • Stage 3: What action would produce the greatest amount of good and the least amount of harm? (Utilitarian)
  • Stage 4: What action best respects the rights and dignity of each person? (Rights)

dsc_0046The First Wave Hip Hop Theater then opened the event artistically with dramatizations of three ethical dilemmas that teens might have to face: what to do when the friend who drove you to a party gets drunk; what to make of a famous athlete’s protest during the national anthem; and how to talk with a friend about a decision he has made. First Wave is a cutting-edge, multicultural, artistic program for UW-Madison students. It was the first university scholarship program in the country centered on the spoken word and hip-hop culture. The actors portrayed the dilemmas with humor and insight, and the moderator (a First Wave alumnus who now teaches in the Verona schools) invited audience participation between acts.

The students then participated in three consecutive breakout sessions in which they considered an ethical dilemma and analyzed it according to the stages of ethical decision-making. The scenarios focused on drunk-driving, affirmative action and transgender locker rooms. Designed by Edgewood College Business Ethics Professor Denis Collins and others, the breakout sessions were led by Rotarians with assistance from Edgewood College students, all of whom had been trained in a half-day session at Edgewood College before the symposium. With 18-20 students in each breakout, the facilitators led the students through a series of small-group discussions in which they deliberated about what action would reflect each level, or stage, of decision-making. The goal was to push students toward higher-level thinking.

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I found the students in the three groups that my team facilitated to be open-minded and thoughtful. They were generally familiar with the issues in the three scenarios, at least through the news. Whether they were personally connected with an issue or not, they found the discussion to be eye-opening. For example, one small-town student said that although he had heard about the transgender issue, he had never talked with anyone about it.  A student from Shabazz City High School responded that in her school there are many transgender students, and anyone may use any restroom or locker room. She added that the discussion at the Ethics Symposium helped her understand why the issue, which she said is “normalized” in her school, is an emotional one for others.

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Rotary President Michele McGrath applied her impressive skill in communicating with teens by asking how many wanted to be a CEO of a company or organization in a few years, how many want to lead impactful change in their community, and how many want to lead impactful change in the world. She got an enthusiastic response to all three questions. She explained they can do that through Rotary.

The impact of the day may have been best articulated by the students themselves at lunchtime. Almost 40 of them responded when Steve Johannsen asked what they thought about the experience. Here are some of the things they said:

  • Even though people disagreed, I appreciated that people could talk and be respected.
  • Listening to other people’s opinions made me more open-minded.
  • It’s not OK to isolate someone for being different.
  • If you feel comfortable in school, then you can’t learn.
  • I gained some ideas for our upcoming Awareness Day at school this spring.
  • It was cool how many people think outside the box, not just levels 1, 2 and 3.
  • It helped me understand other schools, and not just the stereotypes about schools.
  • I was shocked by how many people were not mad at each other about their opinions.
  • I was surprised by how easy the ethical framework was to use after the first time.
  • It was good to talk with students about topics I don’t even talk to adults about.
  • I usually don’t share my opinions with people I don’t know. I was comfortable doing that here.
  • I was surprised how insightful and deeply thoughtful people were even though we’re “just teenagers.”
  • As an openly transgender student, I was happy to see how accepting people were of me.
  • I recognized that there was no single right or wrong answer in some issues.
  • I was impressed by how open people were to listening to others. It makes me optimistic and hopeful as we get ready to become the leaders of this nation.

Fostering Ethical Decision Making

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photos by John Bonsett-Veal and Mike Wenzel

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Almost 250 11th grade students from 20 different Madison area high schools met for the 16th annual Rotary Club of Madison Ethics Symposium on Friday, Feb. 19 at Monona Terrace in Madison, affirming at the culminating luncheon the need not just for adolescents but all of us to “think all the way through decisions.” This kind of thinking, the students expressed, could be enhanced by discussing dilemmas with others including those whom we do not know and those who are different than us.

“Discussing issues with others can broaden your viewpoint,” said Katie Feller of La Follette High School. “It’s interesting to see how people can change their view (by thinking and talking it through),” added Liz Dominguez of Marshall High School.

DSC_0012The five-hour symposium kicked off with real-life reminders that ethical decisions abound throughout history and contemporary life. Steve Johannsen, the 2016 Rotary Ethics Symposium Chair, reminded students that the day was a significant date in history as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, authorizing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. “It is a decision that is still being discussed today,” he said, leaving “tacit” the current political dialogue on the Syrian refugee crisis and immigration.

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It was a group of UW students by name of “First Wave Hip Hop Theater” that in the opening session framed and underscored the importance of ethics by its artistic representations of the Holocaust, slavery (particularly vivid  and thought-provoking through a simulation of a public whipping of a slave), police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement with particular reference to the Madison protests in the wake of the March 5, 2015, police shooting of 19-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson, Jr. First Wave is comprised of a diverse group of UW students, all of whom are part of the first university scholarship program in the U.S. centered on the spoken word and hip-hop culture. The group’s performance helped the assembled 11th grade students indeed grasp how ethics not only shape individual lives but instead entire cultures and societies.

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In three separate breakout sessions of about 20 students each, the high school students with the aid of a Rotary facilitator discussed the ethical implications of adolescent alcohol use and the potential for drunk driving, affirmative action directed toward youth of color, and the use of a locker room by a transgender student  who has not had gender reassignment surgery. Many of the students remarked not only how timely these topics were, but also incredibly important for them to discuss.

The three sessions not only provided rich dialogue among the high school students, but also introduced them to a hierarchy of moral and ethical thinking. Students initially were challenged to record their gut decision, and subsequently made decisions through the lens of “egoism” (What Action Will Benefit Me the Most?); “social group relativism” (What Action Do My Friends or Group Members Think I should Do?); Utilitarianism (What Action Would Produce the Greatest Amount of Good and the Least Amount of Harm?); and the “Right Approach” (What Action Will Best Respect the Rights and Dignity of Each Person?).

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Photo 1: Denis Collins & Melanie Ramey; Photo 2: Mike Casey and Rotary District Governor Mary Van Hout; Photo 3: Karen Christianson & Ben Hebebrand

“We want the students to think about these stages. Our goal is to lead them toward the Rights Approach,” said Denis Collins, who, as a Business Ethics Professor at Edgewood College, has lent his expertise to the symposium since its inception. “Creating a forum and a framework in a safe setting with new acquaintances,” is what defines the essence of the symposium, according to Johannsen. Affirming the sense of safety was a student speaker who proclaimed that “sometimes, but not today, our opinions get discounted.”

The sense of safety is no accident. All Rotarian facilitators underwent a five-hour training session, stressing ground rules best summarized by the mandate that participants need to “treat every single person with complete and unconditional respect.” The training for the facilitators included a presentation by local psychologist Dr. David Lee on “LGBTQ Discussion on Transgender and Identity Issues.”

The symposium also offered accompanying teachers and principals the opportunity to ponder possibilities to introduce further outlets for students to discuss ethical dilemmas. Rotarian Bob Shumaker pointed out that often it is the kids who bring back to their schools the need and desire for further ethics education. “Belleville High School kids created an Ethics program,” he said. “The kids created and gave their teachers ethical dilemmas relating to student discipline and assessment of student work.”

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Education, including learning about an ethical framework for decision-making, is of course enlightening. Thomas Mulholland of East High School summed it up this way: “Apathy is dangerous; ignorance is more dangerous.” Equally uplifting was an impromptu remark by a student during the public comment session that “after today, we can still have faith in humanity.”

2014 Rotary Ethics Symposium – Ethical Decision-Making in Action!

–submitted by Kathryne McGowan; photo credit to John Bonsett-Veal, Pete Christianson and Valerie Johnson

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From left: Dora Zuniga, John Bonsett-Veal, Karen Christianson & Rob Stroud

We did it again!  The Rotary Framework for Ethical Decision-Making has been shared and used by over 200 high school students from 19 schools in Dane County.  The 14th annual Rotary Ethics Symposium occurred on Friday, February 14, 2014.  After a year of planning, numerous committee meetings and intensive work on the curriculum and facilitation process, over 60 Rotarians and Rotaract volunteers led discussions on ethical dilemmas, hearing from the students about what they would do if they were part of the scenario and why.

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As the students gathered, there was the typical chatter about their morning, their friends, a homework assignment and occasionally a “Do you know what this is?” or “Do you know what is going to happen today?”  These inquiries were generally met with shoulder shrugs, or an “I don’t know.” The mood of the room was anticipatory, a little nervousness and maybe some expectation that this would be boring.

DSC_0033 (2)After a brief welcome by our chair Robyn Kitson (pictured at left), the opening session began.  A lone voice recited a poem, then a second voice, a third and a multitude of voices. A simple, yet powerful poem, should the protagonist take the life of someone who has attempted to harm him and others?  This began the discussions of the day.  Our keynote performers, First Wave Hip Hop Theater, sculpted their presentation to highlight ethical situations from violence, to use of language, to our impressions of others.  The “wow” of their thought-provoking performance was just the beginning of a day of exploring new ideas.  This was not going to be a boring day.

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First Wave (pictured above) introduced the ROTARY Framework for Ethical Decision-Making:

R = Recognize an ethical issue
O = Obtain information about the situation and others’ interests and perceptions
T = Test alternative actions from various perspectives
A = Act consistently with your best judgment
R = Reflect on your decision after acting
Y = Yield to your ethical judgments

The students went to sessions where the ROTARY framework was put to the test with two very different ethical dilemmas: the implications of keeping a promise to a friend who is being bullied via social networking; and, the implications of public policy for the homeless.  The students showed us that we should be very hopeful for our future.  The students readily embraced the framework and in many cases, naturally used the framework to approach the ethical dilemma.

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At the final sessions the students worked with others from their school to identify an ethical issue within their school, and to develop a plan of how to approach the problem. The students chose big issues — bullying, diversity, inappropriate use of social media were some of the topics. We are looking forward to hearing back from the students about the outcomes of applying the framework in their school with their chosen special projects implemented post event.

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The day concluded with an interactive lunch attended by many Rotarians that allowed the student to share their impressions from the day. Gone was the nervousness, fear of boredom and anticipation of the morning, replaced with confidence and understanding.  Student after student discussed their belief that they have found a way to keep the discussion going and continue as leaders in their school.

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Photo 1: Al Ripp & Jamie Weissburg; Photo 2: Kathryne McGowan & Nelson Cummings; Photo 3: Cheryl Wittke, Paul Karch, Mike Wenzel & Barb Siehr

This signature event of the Rotary Club of Madison continues to grow and develop the future thought leaders of our community.  If you had the opportunity to participate, this year we welcome your comments and if you’ve not yet participated in this event we encourage you to sign up for the Ethics Symposium Committee for 2014-15 and join us next year.

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(The Rotary Ethics Symposium is generously underwritten by Madison Rotary Foundation.)

Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History on Ethics Symposium

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoOur History Sub-Committee continues to take a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:

Ethics LogoEthics Symposium Became One of Club’s Signature Events in the 21st Century

The earlier centennial blog posts dealt primarily with events of the Club in its first 75 years. While such “look backs” provide perspective for today, one of the Club’s major events was developed within the last 15 years and remains an ongoing cornerstone of Club outreach. What is now the annual Rotary Ethics Symposium for high school juniors in Dane County was developed by Melanie Ramey and other Club members beginning in 1999. The first such event was held in October 2000, and there has been one every academic year since then. The first ones were held in October, and the Symposium was held on days when meetings of teachers provided a non-school day for the Symposium. Notably, the schools soon recognized the academic value of the program and allowed students to attend it in lieu of school so the Rotary Ethics Symposium in recent years has been held in February or March. The first program was at the Concourse Hotel; lately the Monona Terrace Convention Center has been the venue.

Ethan Ecklund-ParaThe Rotary Ethics Symposium has been constantly evolving and continues to evolve in its particulars even today. However, it has always involved intensive looks at specific ethical problems by the students and a great deal of preparation and participation by a large number of Rotarians, a few of whom have been involved in every program held to date. Instead of an opening address by a noted scholar or professional specializing in ethics, which was the pattern in the first years, the Symposium now begins with the staging of an ethical problem pertinent to high school students by the First Wave Drama & Music group of the UW-Madison followed by discussion of that and then, as always, breakout sessions of the students into smaller groups that each deal with an ethical issue before returning to a plenary lunch and opportunity for feedback.

DSC00257The Rotary Ethics Symposium, acting in conjunction with academic specialists in ethics such as the Santa Clara University Center for Ethical Studies, developed an R.O.T.A.R.Y. framework for studying ethical dilemmas and five widely utilized but differing approaches to decide them. The emphasis has always been on advising students that there often is no single “right” answer to an ethical question and that different approaches may yield different results, even though both or all may be considered an ethical solution to the problem.

The R.O.T.A.R.Y. framework, in brief, is as follows: Recognize an ethical issue; Obtain pertinent information; Test alternative approaches from the various ethical perspectives; Act consistently with your best judgment; Reflect on your decision; Yield to your ethical judgments.

The Rotary Ethics Symposium now involves not only the volunteer activities of many Club members but also of non-members engaged in analysis of ethical problems in business and the professions, as well as Rotaract participants. Although it seems certain that fine-tuning will continue each year in an effort to continue to improve the program, it clearly has been a success from the perspectives of both students and Rotarians since its inception. Consider the reports in Club newsletters about the initial ethics symposium in 2000 and about the most recent one on March 1, 2013, attended by 213 students from 19 Dane County high schools.

There is every reason to believe that the Symposium will be a signal activity of the Club in its second century of “service above self.”

13th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium on March 1, 2013

Our club’s strategic plan includes a goal which states, “Identify and focus on up to four areas of need toward which the Club will dedicate its service, attention, and financial resources to optimize impact and make plain our role in the community.”  One project that our club continues which helps us achieve this goal is the annual Rotary Club of Madison Ethics Symposium.

DSC_0018On Friday, March 1, at Monona Terrace (left), there were 213 high school juniors in attendance at our 13th  Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium, and they came from 19 Dane County high schools.

This year, our planning committee, chaired by Dora Zuniga, worked closely with Edgewood College Prof. Denis Collins and Edgewood College Rotaract students to develop the day’s activities to help teach these high school juniors how to work through ethical dilemmas using a R-O-T-A-R-Y Six-step Framework.  We also welcomed back the First Wave Group for our opening session, and the students gave high marks once again to this group.  The First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community is a cutting-edge multicultural artistic program for incoming students at UW-Madison.

DSC00248  DSC00261  DSC00265(Pictured above are various breakout sessions.)

We’d like to thank the following 50 Rotarians who helped out during the day’s event: Steve Aune, Ken Axe,  Brian Basken, Sean Baxter, Donna Beestman, John Bonsett-Veal, Scott Campbell, Sharon Chamberlain, Karen Christianson, Nelson Cummings, Dave Ellestad, Jed Engler, Neil Fauerbach, Jim Fitzpatrick, Rico Goedjen, Dick Goldberg, Cary Heyer, Donna Hurd, Steve Johannsen, Mary Kaminski, Paul Karch, Karen Kendrick-Hands, Robyn Kitson, Ranette Mauer, Kathryne McGowan, Gregg McManners, Renee Moe, Tim Muldowney, Dick Pearson, Laura Peck, Maggie Peterman, Marty Preizler, Melanie Ramey, Bill Reay, Mary Romolino, Joe Sensenbrenner, Bob Shumaker, Larry Smith, Bob Sorge, Wes Sparkman, Ross Squires, Tim Stadelman, Jim Taylor, Jeff Tews, Jerry Thain, Ellis Waller, Mike Wenzel, Marcia Whittington, Bill Zeinemann and Dora Zuniga (chair).

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(Pictured above from left:  First Wave Group from UW-Madison; General photo during Opening Session; Edgewood Rotaract Students: front  row from left to right: Michelle Karn, Victoria Ortiz, Ashley Schoenoff, Abby Trollop, Chelsea Culver, Lauren Carpenter; back row from left to right:  Ben Sheperd, Cory Kundert, Nick Walusayi, Aliou Traore, Bill DeVault)

In addition, our thanks go to Edgewood Prof. Denis Collins and Amy Gannon, along with the following Edgewood College Rotaract students:  Lauren Carpenter, Chelsea Culver, Billy DeVault, Michelle Karn, Cory Kundert, Ashton Lareau, Victoria Oritz Sayago, Ashley Schoenoff, Ben Sheperd, Aliou Traore, Abby Trollop and Nick Walusayi.

From the evaluation forms completed by students at the end of the day, we heard some favorable comments.  Here is a sampling:
–  It was very inspiring and I appreciate it very much.  It changed the way I think about these situations.
–  This was a meaningful experience for me, and I will never forget it.
–  I was surprised by how much fun it was.  I thought the all of the discussions were very fun.
–  This was a wonderful experience. I was open to so many new things.
–  I loved the entire experience and cannot express that enough.  The world needs more people who think this way.
–  I really enjoyed it and met new people while learning about problems at my school that I wasn’t fully aware of.
–  It was intriguing and brought me together with new people.  I was a little confused and uncomfortable at the beginning, but it quickly got better.  Thank you for the opportunity!
–  Thank you for the event.  I feel like it has made a positive difference for my ethical decision process.
–  I think the sessions were effective and the student based discussion was key.

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(Pictured above from left: Denis Collins (center) consulting with Rotaract students; and breakout session photos) 

As 2013 Ethics Symposium Chair Dora Zuniga closed the event, she drew a name of one lucky winner from the audience for the iPod prize drawing, and Jeffrey Reinholz from Verona Area High School was pleased to be the recipient.  Our thanks to Ranette Mauer and the Hilton Madison Hotel for donating this door prize.

 

 

Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in History

As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Rich Leffler:

Committee on Code of Ethics

The Rotary Code of Ethics for Business Men of All Lines

At one time, Rotary had an astounding Code of Ethics, as once required by the Bylaws. But for reasons that are unclear, the Code fell into disuse. Once, it was widely published and distributed. Today, it can hardly be found. We are publishing this remarkable Code of Ethics here, along with a brief history of its rise and fall as a tenet of Rotary.

In 1912, Rotary president Glenn C. Mead proposed that the newly formed Business Methods Committee prepare a code of business ethics for “the advancement of business morality.” (The Rotarian Commemorative Centennial Edition [June 2005], 89) The chair of the committee was Robert W. Hunt of Sioux City, Iowa. Much of the Code was composed by an unofficial committee of Hunt’s fellow Iowa Rotarians while en route to the June 1914 convention in Houston. One of these Iowans, J. R. Perkins, explained that “the articles of the code were revised both as to phrasing and content. The third, eighth, and ninth articles, in their basal ideas . . . grew out of the general discussion. The tenth article, which in the writer’s judgment is the highest ethical upreach of them all, did not appear in [the original] manuscript, tho it was held to be germane to the whole and really expressive of what is fundamental in Rotary.” Perkins also explained that the stunning final paragraph of the “Summary” was “a bit of pragmatic philosophy from William James, but he really borrowed it from European philosophy.”(J. R. Perkins, “History of the Rotary Code of Ethics,” The Rotarian 10, no. 2 [February 1917], 119–21).

The Rotary Code of Ethics for Business Men of All Lines, printed here, was adopted by the Sixth Annual Convention of the International Association of Rotary Clubs meeting in San Francisco in July 1915. Great faith was put into the power of the Code. A report to the 1919 Convention argued that “if the business men of the world would adopt the Rotary Code of Ethics as their rule of conduct, as their guide in commercial intercourse, the world would be a safe place for democracies. . . . Had the business world been operating according to a standard of practices which conform to our Code of Ethics, does any real Rotarian believe that we would have been plunged into a night of horrors such as lasted from August 1914, to November 1918?” (Robert H. Timmons, “Report of Committee on Publicity,” Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Convention . . . [July 16–20, 1919], 430–31)

In 1921, when the Rotary Club of Madison celebrated the sixteenth birthday of Rotary with a full-page spread in the Wisconsin State Journal, it proudly published the Code of Ethics and declared that Rotary is “based on the following Code of Ethics.” (WSJ, February 23, 1921) And the History of our Club recalls that in the mid-1920s the Club’s “leadership began to use it [the Code] as the focal point of a number of somber investigations into the allegedly unethical business dealings of some of its most prominent members.” (John Jenkins, History of the Rotary Club of Madison [Madison, 1990], 56) This latter point deserves scrutiny in future blogs.

But as early as 1921, there were objections to the Code. Ironically, it was Rotary President Mead who asked “Is the Rotary Code of Ethics a code of ethics at all? Is it not a confession of faith or a creed?” (The Rotarian 19, no 1 [July 1921], 39) Similarly, in 1924, Rotary president Guy Gundaker echoed Mead when he observed that the Code was “more in the line of a confession of faith, or a creed.. . . [The Code] should be specific, plain-spoken, and expressed in commonly understood terms; also that its provisions should be given as rules of conduct expressed as ‘Shall and Shall Not.’ This, of course, does not preclude preambles to any of the sections of an informative character.” (The Rotarian 25, no. 3 [September 1924], 42) By 1931, Rotary began to consider itself less a business club than a service club, and Rotary International adopted its “Aims and Objects,” which had application beyond business matters. The Board appointed a committee to revise the Code of Ethics. The Code continued to be published in the Manual of Procedure, but it was no longer separately distributed. In 1943, the Four-Way Test was adopted, and it became a sort of substitute code of ethics with broad application.

In 1951–52, the Board discontinued the distribution of the Code of Ethics entirely. In 1977, an attempt was made to “revive the publication and dissemination” of the Code. But the following year, the Board determined that “because of changes in the realm of business and professional life since the adoption of the code, any revision and updating for the purpose of re-instituting the publication and distribution of the code would be ineffectual.” So the Board voted not to revise the Code or to distribute it. In 1980, reference to the Code was removed from the RI Bylaws.

Although the Four-Way Test is often referred to as a Code of Ethics, it has never been so designated. In fact, the 1981 Manual of Procedure stated that “The Four-Way Test should not be referred to as a ‘code’ in any sense.” So, presently, Rotary has no code of ethics. Our Club is, however, as concerned as ever about ethical behavior, and our annual Ethics Symposium program extends outward to high school students in the Madison area. It is one important way of serving the community.

This introduction is partially based on Doug Rudman, “The Rotary Code of Ethics,” The Rotary Global History Fellowship (An Internet Project) (http://rotaryfirst100.org/history/headings/ethics.htm and Rudman, “Is the Four-Way Test a Code of Ethics?” (ibid.).