The Right Thing

SSU's new Ethics Center compromised Shepherd Bliss

Sonoma State University’s new Ethics Center has caused quite a stir among my colleagues and students during the first week of classes.

The notorious American International Group gave two-thirds of the new center’s $16,000 first-year budget. One might wonder what AIG’s intentions were for funding the center; AIG is not known for its ethics. In fact, the insurer’s risky bets on derivatives were central to the 2008 economic crash.

Of course, they were rewarded with a $182 million bailout. Retired SSU professor Robert Plantz reminded the university community on the faculty email list that AIG is “talking about suing our government for what they think is a lousy deal in the bailout.” So much for gratitude and ethics. They appear to be one more mega-corporation jumping on the bandwagon to further privatize SSU and direct its studies.

“Any entity designated as an ‘Ethics Center’ has a special responsibility to scrutinize the moral and ethical correlates of its own supporting foundation, structure and functioning, especially its filtering of acceptable and unacceptable issues,” noted sociology professor Noel Byrne.

The public first heard about the Ethics Center in an article headlined “Some Topics Too Close to Home for SSU Ethics Center,” in the Jan. 16 Press Democrat. Its subhead? “Director of new venture opts not to weigh in on donor AIG’s role in economic crisis.”

“The Ethics Center has a basic challenge to speak to the ethics of taking money from AIG,” notes retired political science professor John Kramer.

I welcome the Ethics Center, whose first event will be a Feb. 6 lecture by Judge Brad Seligman on “Big Law, Small Law: Old and New Civil Rights in the 21st Century,” in the Warren Auditorium at 4pm. I hope that such presentations will become forums to discuss controversial issues.

The new center plans to deal with issues such as immigration, water use, food ethics, clean technology and income inequality, according to its director, philosophy lecturer Joshua Glasgow. But if it’s not willing to discuss AIG, what other mega-corporations or millionaires might already be knocking on SSU’s door? Walmart? Chase? Monsanto, which funds UC Irvine’s agriculture department?

Shepherd Bliss ([email protected]) teaches college and farms.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. To have your essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected]