ASU profs take in-depth look at cheating in 3-day applied ethics series

Sydney Maltese | Staff Writer

For the 11th year, professors and fellows from the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University return to Chautauqua, this time to explore the ethics of cheating in sports, media, national security, international law and in oneself.

From 4–5:30 p.m. today through Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Peter French and colleagues will foster an in-depth discussion on rules of ethics in a modern world — who makes the rules and who must abide by them.

“I think we’ve got quite a cast of characters this year,” said French, director of the Lincoln Center, Lincoln Chair in Ethics and professor of philosophy.

Today, Daniel Rothenberg, professor of practice and executive director of the Center for Law and Global Affairs in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, will speak for his first time at Chautauqua on “Cheating in International Human Rights Law.” He will be followed by Jason Scott Robert, Franca Oreffice Dean’s distinguished professor in the life sciences and Lincoln Associate Professor of Ethics in Biotechnology and Medicine in the School of Life Sciences, speaking on “Cheating in Sports.” A 15-minute Q-and-A session will follow.

On Tuesday, Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, associate professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Lincoln Center Fellow for media and culture, will speak on “Cheating: Local TV News, Colorism, and Crime Judgments.”

Following Bramlett-Solomon is Brad Allenby, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics and Arizona State professor of civil, environmental, and sustainable engineering and law, who will speak on “Cheating in the National Security Space.” A Q-and-A session will also follow the speakers.

French will take the lead on Wednesday and speak on “Cheating Yourself,” and propose five different ways a person may do so. The group will then recap or continue its discussions and will answer the audience’s questions.

Rothenberg plans to challenge the audience by debunking misunderstandings about international law, more specifically international human rights law — which, Rothenberg said, even confuses the experts who write about it.

“I found it interesting how many basic principles of this field are not known,” Rothenberg said.

In discovering the nuances of international law, which originates mainly from treaties or conventions, many people do not realize that states have a mechanism to avoid adhering to such law in certain situations — the reservation.

“Reservations allow a state to come up with its own definition of how it understands a particular component of the treaty, which includes selecting out of their obligation to do what the treaty says,” Rothenberg said.

He proposes the question that if laws are rules that states must follow, and reservations are a way to bend the rules and favor one particular player, then does international law institutionalize the practice of cheating?

Following Rothenberg, Robert will discuss similar rule-bending in the sports arena. An expert in bioethics, Robert has spoken at Chautauqua before. This time, he will focus on pharmaceutical enhancements in professional and amateur sports.

“It’s very appropriate as the Olympics are going on, and, of course, just the general problem of steroids and human growth hormone,” French said.

French anticipates Robert discussing the use of artificial enhancements for professional athletes.

“In certain professions, we think that (enhancement) is just fine and expected, among, say, movie stars or among people in other fields,” he said. “When we get to sports, then we think it’s something unfair, and someone’s being cheated.”

Bramlett-Solomon will lead the discussion Tuesday by explaining how the media sometimes cheat the public out of fair and unbiased reporting, especially when covering marginalized or minority groups.

“In colorism, the lighter you are, the more valued and privileged you are,” Bramlett-Solomon said.

She plans to explain how colorism impacts the media and how the news media portray people of color in roles that perpetuate negative stereotypes. Those negative images affect the way society perceives minorities or marginalized groups, and those perceptions follow people of color in every aspect of their lives — even into the justice system.

“Is that cheating the public in having an accurate portrayal? We expect the media to be fair, to be the eyes and ears of the public,” Bramlett-Solomon said. “We feel our democracy cannot stand without the media. I’m talking about issues of fairness, portrayal and stereotypes.”

She will discuss a piece of her own research that connects local television news exposure to how individuals may be judged in the court system. Bramlett-Solomon proposes a connection between darker skin color and more jail time.

Allenby will build on the discussion of injustice Tuesday with his perspective on cheating in national security and within the laws of war.

Those who support international law claim that violation of those rules is cheating. Allenby, however, said people neglect to think about whether the state is the only actor that should be held to international laws. What other groups or institutions should adhere to the rules? Who gets to make the rules — the West, as it has been? Should the rules be updated with the times? For example, should the qualifiers for a just cause for war be expanded to include cyber attacks and other forms of modern warfare?

“In terms of national security, we need to understand that a lot of entities and institutions are not going to view cheating the same way that we do,” he said. “We’ll try to force them to, but we can’t expect them to.”

French expects the Chautauqua audience to raise plenty of pertinent questions.

The Lincolns, who established the Lincoln Center at ASU, are longtime Chautauquans. Katie Lincoln served on the boards  of Chautauqua Institution and Chautauqua Foundation, and Chautauqua Institution President Thomas M. Becker serves on the board of the Lincoln Center.

The faculty members plan to bring their multi-disciplinary approach to ethics to Chautauqua in order to build an understanding of the ethical issues that define the present time.

“It’s a different approach to doing ethics at a university,” French said. “It’s spread throughout disciplines.”