Kerry Hart: College policies based on moral values

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— The once-forbidden topic of teaching values in public educational institutions is not as prevalent today as it was a couple of decades ago.

The episodes of violence at Virginia Tech, Columbine and other schools and colleges that have experienced tragic incidents have forced us, as a society, to re-examine our educational policies. In addition, environmental issues, the threat of pandemic disease, terrorism, business abuses that have far-reaching economic implications (such as Enron) and other pressing concerns have created a movement for implementing an ethical component into many traditional academic disciplines. And although there still is an unwritten (or sometimes written) code prohibiting the teaching of values in academic classrooms, the truth is that morality and values have been, and still are, intertwined in public educational institutions more than one might think.

Institutions of higher education teach morality beginning with their admission policies. When a college advocates a dry campus where alcohol is prohibited and there is zero tolerance for illegal drug use, a message about moral-based expectations is communicated. It is important when making college choices that a student's own values and standards of moral conduct align with the values of the college.

Following the money trail also can reveal a lot about the values and morality of an institution. Are scholarships awarded to help bright, capable students in need, or does the lion's share of scholarships go to support athletic teams? Diploma-mill institutions that are more concerned about collecting tuition than they are about delivering accredited programs represent an extreme lesson we learn about the level of immorality that can be exhibited by an institution.

On the other end of the spectrum, when an institution such as Colorado Mountain College intentionally chooses to go against the trend of other Colorado institutions and keep tuition among the lowest in the state for the delivery of a high-quality education, it becomes a decision based in morality and on principle to its mission of serving the community.

We have used our moral compass to make value judgments on the environment and the array of social problems afflicting our world. Observations of educational policy enable us to reason about the moral dimensions to ensure sound decision-making for choices in a college or university. And in community colleges, the values defined in educational policies should reflect the values of the community.

Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. His education commentaries appear on most Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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