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I am the director of the Center for Organizational Ethics and an assistant professor of philosophy at Marian University. I received my PhD in ethics from Vanderbilt University. I have an MA in religion and culture from Catholic University of America and a BA in political philosophy from Kenyon College. In addition to directing the Center for Organizational Ethics, I teach Human Nature and Person and Personal and Professional Ethics in the Theology/Philosophy Department and Business Ethics in the School of Business. Prior to coming to Marian University, I taught in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Indianapolis and worked as a research administrator at Methodist Research Institute, the biomedical research center for Clarian Health. Before settling in Indianapolis, I taught in the Theology Department at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana and at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I am Egyptian!

This morning I heard on NPR that the organizer of the Egyptian protest against Hosni Mubarak are searching protesters entering the city for weaponry - demonstrating a commitment to nonviolent protest. In his regular editorial, Nicholas Kristof urges solidarity with the protesters: "We are all Egyptians!"
My prayers go out for the Egyptian people: that Mubarak will step down; that Mohamed ElBaradei will rise to this occasion and lead the people; that our country will do the right thing and support democracy rather than national interest and security.

Today, I am Egyptian!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reflections on the FCIC Report

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission issued its report on the financial crisis of 2008 this past week. The biggest controversy arising from the release of the report is whether the financial crisis could have been avoided. In what I believe is a fairly balanced and well-argued article in today's New York Times, Joe Nocera argues that it could not have been avoided - not so much because it was a phenomenon beyond the control of mere mortals - but more along the lines of "it has ever been thus." Nocera suggests that it is probably impossible to pinpoint the blame on a single person, agency, group, or circumstance. Rather, it was all of these - plus misbegotten human intentionality and human foibles. He notes that we need a psychologist more than an investigator to help us understand all that went on in creating this crisis. He ends by noting that the question about the financial crisis is not whether it will happen again, but when it will happen.

I pretty much agree with Nocera. At the same time, as an ethicist I think it is important to recognize that the ethical problem with the financial crisis was the number of people in the financial sector who jumped at the chance they saw to reap huge profits from the new laws. Even the part about encouraging people with scant financial resources to take out mortgages beyond their means didn't give them pause. This is a serious moral problem. It is for this reason that undergraduate and graduate business programs must not only teach business ethics but also need to teach virtue. This of course opens up the whole debate about whether such things can be taught. I think, though, that we are beyond this debate. Virtue must be taught. Surely there are enough ethics centers at universities in the country to take up the creative task of teaching our young some moral integrity.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lead from the Heart: Ethical Perspectives in Healthcare

The Center for Organizational Ethics at Marian University is sponsoring the 2nd annual Lead from the Heart event: Ethics Perspectives in Healthcare on Wednesday, February 23, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Our speakers will be Dr. Chuck Dietzen, Founder and President of the Timmy Foundation, and Dr. Lucia Wocial, Nurse Ethicist and Program Leader at the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics at Indiana University Health. Dr. Chuck will speak on compassionate end-of-life care and Dr. Wocial will speak on moral distress in healthcare professionals.

The event will be held at Allison Mansion on the campus of Marian University. Registration will begin at 4:00 p.m. with hors d'oeuvres served at 4:30. The speakers will begin at 5:00 p.m. with questions and answers from 6:00 t0 6:30.

I think this should be a very exciting event addressing two critical issues in healthcare ethics. I hope to see a great crowd there. If you know anyone who might be interested, let them know about this event. Questions? Call me at 955-6115 or email me at kspear@marian.edu.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Culture Wars at Christmas

Ah, the holidays. Americans are working on another holiday tradition: the annual culture war over "holiday season" vs. Christmas. Gail Collins and David Brooks take on the issue in their regular shared online column in The Opinionator on nytimes.com. Brooks betrays an obvious fondness for Christmas - both the word and the holiday itself - from a Jewish perspective. Indeed, Brooks is that rare celebrator of the good things brought into the world by Christianity - my personal favorite being his appreciation of Bono. Brooks seems to come out in favor of "Merry Christmas"; Collins in favor of "Happy Holiday."

So where do I come down on the issue? My policy is to wish a happy holiday to those who I know are not Christian or to those of whom I am unsure. I choose this policy out of respect for the feelings of others. If that is political correctness, so be it. However, if I know someone is Christian, I wish them a hearty "Merry Christmas." I am always a bit perplexed when greeted by a fellow parishioner with "Happy Holiday." That seems quite ridiculous to me. If Brooks and the Muslim security guard can greet one another with Merry Christmas, surely believers need not be squeamish in this way.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In today's New York Times op-ed page, Thorbjorn Jagland, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee offers an explanation of why the committee gave Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Price. As if an explanation is needed - but given the way governments have bent over backwards to ignore Chinese violations of human rights for the sake of economic opportunity, perhaps a peace award to a Chinese dissident is seen as a radical action in need of defense.

Jagland's article sets out an explanation of how the notion of sovereignty has changed over the years, yielding the Universal Declaration of Human Right, to which China has at least given lip service. In this context, Jagland notes that China's conviction of Liu rests on "spreading rumors or slander or any other means to subvert the state power or overthrow the socialist system." As Jagland notes "it is not a government's task to stamp out opinions and rumors." The Universal Declaration supports the right of individuals to free expression even if such speech criticizes the government.

The US Government has consistently ignored China's violations of human rights in order to continue to do business with China. The justification has been that economic freedom can only thrive within a politically free system - and that if the West engages China economically, political freedom is inevitable. This of course depends upon dissident voices within China being heard. But without support from the West, these voices continue to be oppressed.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is a step in the right direction. My hope is that other groups and governments will follow their example.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My business ethics class is in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The students seem to be enjoying it a lot. Many enjoy Michael Pollan's engaging writing style, but they also seem intrigued by what Pollan is reporting about agribusiness and the American food system.

What I find most thought-provoking in the book is Pollan's juxtaposition of the logic of industry versus the logic of evolution. Efficiency is the starting point of the logic of industry and a most American value. Pollan's investigation reveals how pursuing this value in the absence of others has turned good intentions (finding a way of producing abundant and cheap food) into a misbegotten adventure. By relying on a monoculture of corn, we have inadvertently created a fast-food jungle accompanied by health problems like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease; environmental problems; social justice issues related to the quality of food available to the poor and to the rights of farm workers; and a system that is inhumane in how we treat animals.

I am also intrigued by the biodiverse grass farm of Joel Salatin that Pollan describes. Indeed, I have to be intellectually vigilant to not entirely sucumb to the romantic agarian ideal that it depicts. Indeed, I'm not sure Pollan has entirely resisted the seduction. But it does seem to make so much sense to feed animals what they are biologically intended to eat and to raise them in humane environs. I agree with one of my colleagues that it is hard to find fault with Pollan's methodology and perspective.

But there are those who find fault. In a blog called The Modest Proposal, Pollan is taken to task for only speaking to one representative of each of the producers of his four meals. And there is always the obvious practical critique of Pollan and the local food movement: Is eating locally and seasonally even feasible given the vastness of this nation - both geographically and in term of population? Are we simply too big for it to work?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This morning I heard a report on NPR about the role of the men on the U.S. Kirk in the evacuation of South Vietnam in 1975. It was a moving story about how these men aided Vietnamese refugees as they fled Vietnam during the final offensive in Saigon. I encourage you to go to the link and hear or read the story.

The story relates a recent reunion of the sailors on the U.S. Kirk where they honored a Vietnamese man named Ba Nguyen. Mr. Nguyen piloted a helicopter with his wife and children in it and chased the U.S. Kirk out of Saigon. He was unable to land on the Navy ship because it was too small. As the sailors tried to wave him off, Mr. Nguyen's wife literally dropped their 10-month-old daughter onto the ship. Mr. Nguyen's wife and three children then jumped onto the vessel. The crew on the ship caught the baby and the other four and then headed back to South Vietnam to pick up more refugees.

It's an amazing story that is just now being told. Why hasn't it been told until now? Because 35 years ago, most Americans were sick of Vietnam and didn't want to hear about it.

OK. Time for some full disclosure. I have a personal interest in this story. My father was the Consul General in MR2, the second military region of South Vietnam, from 1973 to 1975. My dad worked with Ambassador Graham Martin during the evacuation and in the office in the U.S. Department of State that handled the settlement of Vietnamese refugees. There have been a few critics of the handling of refugees from Vietnam, but really - they did the best they can. They got as many out as they could, not worrying about the paperwork - just getting as many folks out as they could.

What struck me about the NPR story was that it had not been told because no one wanted to hear about Vietnam. That was exactly my parents' experience. When they finally left Vietnam they traveled around Asia for a while - not having the stomach to go back to the States yet. Clearly they knew intuitively that this would be a contentious story. Sure enough, that summer my mom would come home from a social gathering with stories about being shut out of conversations as soon as people heard where she had been.

My closing thought: Let's get the Iraqis who worked with Americans out of Iraq as best we can AND let's not ignore and silence our vets coming home from Iraq.