The Autonomy of University Ethics Centers


[Georgia O'Keeffe, "Red Canna" (censored)]

[Georgia O’Keeffe, “Red Canna” (censored)]

Wednesday afternoon, Gordon Hull, associate professor of philosophy at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and director of the school’s Center for Professional and Applied Ethics, put up a post on the Center’s webpage about the recent police shooting of an unarmed black man, Keith L. Scott (see the bottom of this post for that text).

The central message of the post was summed up in its conclusion:

I do not know exactly what happened last night, but even more than I hope that the CMPD will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation, I hope that something triggers white America to care about the deep structural racism that permeates so much of our society, and about the incalculable damage that racism does to real people, real families and real communities, every day.

The next morning Hull received an email from his dean, Nancy A. Gutierrez, ordering him to take the post off the site.

Hull complied, and then posted about what had happened at New APPS. There, he says:

We live in a world where University Ethics Center directors are not allowed to attempt to exercise moral leadership in the communities they serve, even as those universities claim to commit and recommit to their communities. And where Ethics Centers are forced to be strangely silent on moral issues like HB2 and police violence.

Hull tells me that Gutierrez affirmed his right to say whatever he wants about the case on his own personal website. But why not the website for the ethics center?

It is not unreasonable to think that it’s well within the responsibilities of the director of a university ethics center to comment publicly, in that professional capacity, on ethical matters of current concern. To speak in that professional capacity is not to speak on behalf of the university. Rather, it is to make use of the expertise for which one was hired to express one’s professional opinion on a subject well within the scope of concern of the institution. If a school is going to bother having an ethics center, ought it not respect the academic freedom of its employees to speak to the public about ethics?

It would be interesting to learn of similar controversies and clashes at ethics centers at other schools.

Generally, what does and what should the academic freedom of directors of university ethics centers (as well as others at such centers) protect?

Below is the text of the post Hull was asked to remove. You can also read it on New APPS.

hull-on-charlotte-shooting

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