Tag Archives: Annual Ethics Symposium

19th Annual Ethics Symposium Held on February 15 at Monona Terrace

submitted by Joyce Bromley

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On this very day (February 15th), 2418 years after the city of Athens sentenced Socrates to death for corrupting the minds of youth and for impiety (399 BC), Rotary had the audacity to hold its 19th annual Ethics Symposium in the City of Madison.  President Jason Beren gave a heartwarming welcome and an overview of the many ways Rotary contributes to the betterment of the world.  He invited students to become a part of Rotary beginning with Interact.

Nearly 200 students representing 11th graders from 19 area high schools met at the Monona Terrace to learn how to think about issues beyond their own welfare—and how to act ethically.  Students were assigned to various groups throughout the Symposium.  This scramble allowed them to have discussions with students from various backgrounds.  Students represented large urban schools and smaller schools, some from rural areas; students whose families are first generation immigrants, or are themselves immigrants; privileged and underprivileged; well-represented in society and others who feel under-represented; and students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

We are faced with dilemmas every day.  Some dilemmas are large, some are small; some are personal, some involve a community; some require an immediate response and some take time to resolve.  Many are gut-wrenching and can either strengthen a relationship or destroy it.  Some keep you in a group, others make you an outsider.  Often dilemmas do not have a right or wrong answer.  Ethics training provides a framework to analyze how to arrive at a socially beneficial action.

Our own Rotarian, Anthony Gray, CEO of the Institute for Global Ethics, led the call and over 50 volunteers carried the Rotary virtual “banner.”  Among the Rotarians were seasoned ethicists who had worked with the Symposium for several years, and those who joined for the first time.  We were privileged to be trained in an ethical approach prior to the Symposium.  This training provided a well-organized process for the day and helped us utilize each session—essential for each breakout group of 20 students.  You cannot fool students. They would know if we had been unprepared.  Clearly, we passed the test.

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The warm-up to ethics training began with performances by college students from the Edgewood College Theatre.  These topics introduced dilemmas related to how to make transgender students safe in locker rooms; effects of racial profiling; and a reaction to a request for a job recommendation.

Students I interviewed as they arrived in the morning had a variety of reasons for attending the Symposium.  Some were encouraged to attend, because it would look good on college applications. Others were open to a new experience–they wanted an opportunity to engage with other students beyond their own environment, as well as to learn how to reflect on leaders’ speeches. And many had altruistic reasons.  Most students expressed an interest in caring about people and wanting to find ways to work together to find better solutions to life’s uncertainties.  One expression was powerful: “This is now “our” world, and we need to know how to define it better.”

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Using the Rotary framework these students were presented with dilemmas, and they practiced how to conduct themselves by using standard behavior toward others.  Initially, they were asked to report their “gut reaction.”  Then they began to use the “ethics skills set” in the framework for analysis.  In the end they reported their “final decision.”

  • Recognize an ethical issue—a dilemma cannot be solved until it can be identified.
  • Obtain information about the situation—get facts and collect data.
  • Test alternative actions from various perspectives in 4 stages:  Stage 1: What action benefits me most? (Egoism); Stage 2: What actions do my friends or group members think I should do? (Social Group Relativism); Stage 3: What action would produce the greatest amount of good & the least amount of harm? (Utilitarian); and Stage 4: What action best respects the rights and dignity of each person? (Rights—What will be fair to all concerned?)
  • Act consistently using your best judgment with the data/facts available.
  • Reflect on your decision. Be willing to adjust a decision as you obtain more data/facts and reactions of others.
  • Yield on your ethical judgments, these will govern your conduct and become your character.

The dilemmas presented in the Symposium were issues from actual school board records.  They included cheating, racial disparity, and violence in schools.

This generation of students has lived with principles of “duck and cover;” that is, how to conduct themselves when an “intruder” is in or near their school and their school is in “lock-down.”  This is evasive language which really means, if someone exhibits threatening (even life threatening—e.g. an armed person) behavior, drills are used to teach students and teachers what they each can do for protection.

The final dilemma of the day concerned a proposal to have teachers with a concealed carry license and annual additional mandatory training with local police to voluntarily carry guns to school.  Would this make schools safer or give students the perception of being safer?  In this exercise, each student was to put herself/himself in the role of a student representative on the school board and represent the student body.  After the discussion that included arguments for and against the proposal, the representative had to vote.  In the session that I attended, of the 18 students, the “student body” voted 17:1 to reject the proposal and maintain the current “no firearms” policy.  The trauma these students expressed, and continue to feel, about the gunfire they experienced has defined their high school education.  Eventually, the student who would initially vote to allow teachers to carry guns under these circumstances was willing to consider other safety measures that could be put in place instead of guns.  The value of this exercise, and all of the others throughout the Symposium, was that students felt safe in expressing their shift in thinking.  Many students shifted from their “gut-reaction” when they reported their final decision.

Teachers recognize that much of their own learning comes from their students.  This was certainly true at the Ethics Symposium.  By the end of the Symposium, students were asked their reaction.  Their experiences were wider than “this will be good on my college application” (which it undoubtedly would be) to the benefit of having their views validated.  They appreciated that the Symposium was not a lecture course, where they were told how they were to do something. They struggled with topics and had to engage in dynamic groups, sometimes with others from very different life experiences.  They appreciated the respect they received from offering different perspectives.

Some may accuse Rotary of impiety because these students were not entirely satisfied with the status quo.  If teaching these students how to think rather than what to think is corrupting the minds of youth—then we would certainly be guilty.  We came away with the satisfaction that these students feel they have obtained tools to help them practice ethical behavior.  Dan Mahoney, Counselor at Memorial High School, and a staunch supporter of the Rotary Interact Program, said that over the years, he has witnessed the value of the Ethics Symposium.  For students who attend, it has been life-changing (and for the good).

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.

The 15th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium Expands Students’ Bandwidth for Ethical Decision Making!

–submitted by Maggie Peterman; photos by Donna Beestman and John Bonsett-Veal

Stacy Nemeth, Chair of 2015 Ethics Symposium Committee

Stacy Nemeth, Chair of 2015 Ethics Symposium Committee

More than 200 students from 18 Dane County high schools were challenged to examine the decisions they make every day in a new way Friday, February 27, at the 15th annual Rotary Ethics Symposium at Monona Terrace.

With dramatic performances on edgy teenage issues – teenage pregnancy and a father confronting his adolescent son about drug use – members of the UW-Madison First Wave Hip Hop Theater, a cosmopolitan multicultural artistic program, set the stage for high school students.

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And First Wave led the students through the R-O-T-A-R-Y Framework for Ethical Decision Making, which is a six-step process of thinking through a dilemma and making a decision.

Then the high schoolers went to work. They were confronted with two dilemmas: Hostile Messages and an Affirmative Action Proposal.

“It was fun to be able to discuss realistic problems,” said Desmond Lawrence, 17, a junior at Madison’s Memorial High School, following the workshop. “I like that they (Rotarians) want us to reach out to our own high schools to get these (workshops) going.”

Rotary members along with participants from Rotaract clubs at UW-Madison and Edgewood College led the workshops. Students learned the ground rules, which emphasized: “Treat every single person in the room with complete and unconditional respect.”

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“I liked that whatever you had to say, you were going to be respected,” noted a student from Belleville High School. “It was nice to see that my friends had a serious side.”

“The coolest thing of all,” said a student from Monona Grove High School, “someone from my school and I, we had different opinions and we still like each other.”

The ROTARY Framework for Ethical Decision Making is as follows:

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

Students dispersed into workshops to learn the practical application of the Rotary Framework. The sessions were designed to group together students from a variety of high schools.

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“Once students were in the smaller groups, they were willing to delve into the issues,” said Sophie Chadli, 17, a senior at Madison’s Shabazz High School.

At first, many participants felt isolated. They later discovered a new-found freedom as they listened to each other and even gained the confidence to rethink their stand.

“When we were doing the panel on affirmative action, others’ opinions changed mine about certain things,” said Dominique Taylor, 16, a junior at Middleton’s Clark Street Community School. “Me and some other students want to inform our teachers about the process so we can start training and recommend (the Ethics Symposium) to other students.”

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It was a new learning experience, most students agreed.

“I really enjoyed today,” said a student from Madison’s East High School. “It’s something that will stick with me. It’s a tradition that will keep on giving. I met lots of new people.”

The students’ willingness and enthusiasm to embrace a new experience impressed Rotary leaders.

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Sarah Gempeler, 20, a junior at Edgewood College and a Rotaract member, grew up in Monroe, a south-central Wisconsin city of about 45,000 residents.

“It’s great to see how passionate these kids are about (relevant) issues,” Gempler said. “I grew up in a town where there wasn’t much diversity in our high school.”

A first-time volunteer for the symposium, Janet Piraino, a Rotary member and district director for a Wisconsin representative, praised the next generation of Wisconsin voters.

“This is my first time and I’m blown away by their ability to stand their ground,” she said. “There were students of color on both sides of an issue that spoke very passionately for their position. One African American girl spoke in opposition to affirmative action because she felt it didn’t honor equality.”

Discussions on controversial topics showed that students are listening and collecting information as they go about their daily lives, said Steve Johannsen, a Rotary member and Madison business advisor.

“The (affirmative action) statistics were eye-opening for all the students,” Johannsen said. “It gave them a much better feel for real community issues. The conversations were unbelievably insightful and respectful.”

Rotary leaders are willing to assist high schools students and faculty with developing an “Ethics in Action” project at their schools, said Stacy Nemeth, Chair, 2015 Rotary Ethics Symposium.

Monona Grove High School Principal Paul Brost led a discussion with judicious students from his 925-student school. Students were enthusiastic about working with trained facilitators – Rotaract students and Rotary leaders – to deliver the project to Monona Grove.

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“People need help learning about ethical decisions, but we need someone to help facilitate our conversations,” noted a Monona Grove student who voted in favor of assistance from Rotaract students. “We’re too used to just listening and taking notes. We need a role model to help us get going.”

Throughout the discussion, Brost encouraged students to take a leadership role.

“I’m willing to preload the idea at a staff meeting,” he offered. “If it’s student-led, it’s up to you to take the lead and find a coach or a teacher willing to make it work. It needs to be bite-sized and meaningful.

“Part of our goal in school is to get kids to different leadership opportunities,” added Brost who has attended the conference 13 years. “Students always find this very worthwhile. It has high value for us.”

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Rotary member, Donna Beestman, is a veteran participant at the Ethics Symposium. She praises students and school leaders for their dedication and applauds the annual work of the more than 50 Rotaract and Rotary volunteers.

“It’s like students go through a transformation in the course of four hours,” she said.

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.).