Marissa Lee came to Shaw University last year adamantly pro-choice. She ignored those who didn't share her view. They were simply wrong.
But after taking three required ethics courses, Lee has changed her mind.Not about abortion: about the people who oppose it.
"The classes really make you think about other viewpoints," the 19-year-old from Cleveland said. "I have a lot more compassion for the other side."
Helping students to hone their own moral values and to respect others' are two goals behind Shaw's mandatory 9-hour ethics curriculum. With that unusual graduation requirement, five ethicists on the 84-member faculty and two major grants to work on preparing students for nonprofit work, the historically black university in downtown Raleigh is building a reputation as a regional leader in moral education.
"They are pioneers," said Elizabeth Kiss, director of the Kenan Ethics Program at Duke University.
Five years ago, in a speech that blamed universities in part for an American "crisis of values and breakdown of personal and social morality," Shaw University President Talbert O. Shaw - himself an ethicist - announced the course-work requirement and a new "values agenda" for the campus. While the university has Baptist ties, its moral education has more to do with Socrates than with scripture.
"The real function of an academic institution is the development of character," Shaw said in an interview. "Universities had lost that element. But I believe we have found it again."
Other universities are trying to find it too, Kiss said.
"There is a general rethinking of what it is universities and colleges should be teaching, and what it is we want to ensure students have exposure to," she said.
At Princeton, that has meant a mandatory ethics course beginning with the class of 2000. A committee reviewing the curriculum at Duke, and another plotting new freshman seminars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are considering similar requirements.
"Every institution is having to decide how to deal with ethics and morals, and with the development of character and values, within its own culture," said Beverly Washington Jones, director of Central's community service program.