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Ethical perspectives in homeland security education

Dr. Frank T. Whitehurst of
Liberty University, and CEO
of Academic and Practitioner
Consultant Experts

Ethics is a critical component for homeland security practitioners and scholars. However, the level of attention and methods for teaching ethics differ among organizations and universities. Evaluating practices and methods can identify ways to improve education processes.

Background considerations

Ethical standards differ between people for a variety of reasons. This realization became apparent to me during a police administrator class I attended. Some administrators found nothing wrong with one scenario, which I considered immoral and criminal. Morality may be debated, but criminal acts are defined by law. As such, people can rationalize that illegal acts are acceptable using their respective ethical foundations. In my 30-year career in state law enforcement, I identified various levels of ethics among law enforcement officers and other homeland security professionals.

In academia, I have supervised faculties at two universities, taught at various traditional and non-traditional universities, and interacted with colleagues from several other universities. Although agreement exists among educators regarding the importance of ethics in academia, many times ethics are compartmentalized in one course or presented in one section of a textbook. I thought this was adequate until I began developing courses and teaching for Liberty University.

Liberty University’s methods

Liberty University maintains a Christian worldview environment for academic study and practical application. In support of Liberty University’s philosophy, mission and academic rigor, critical elements called AIMS are applied consistently in each course to nurture the student’s intellectual development and cultural understanding on individual, group and international levels. This includes moral dimensions and ethical implications.

One AIM is strictly focused on cultivating sensitivity to the needs of others and a commitment to better humanity. As such, other worldviews are examined and considered (i.e., various cultures, religions and groups) to provide a comprehensive evaluation and understanding of moral and ethical foundations. Moreover, the fragmentations and integrations among each are identified and discussed.

At Liberty University, administrators, faculty and students nurture personal integrity and social responsibility through a commitment to the Christian faith. This is achieved through daily interactions and the structured AIMS. Students are challenged to self-evaluate expectations of their performance, values and commitment.

Application of methods

In newsworthy homeland security events, government officials are increasingly challenged about performance and, in some cases, the unethical conduct of government employees. As a law enforcement administrator, I have witnessed decisions about right or wrong based strictly on policy and procedure. However, policy cannot address all of the issues. Moreover, policy and punishment can make people comply, but policy and punishment cannot make people ethical. To achieve this goal, much more is required. 

Although personal ethical and cultural foundations are difficult to change, universal agreement and shared organizational ethics may be promoted and achieved. People tend to look at situations and the world though their respective ingrained perceptions. These perceptions can be based on a variety of life experiences and learning, particularly religion-based learning. By considering other worldviews and perspectives, self-reflection and intellect can be enhanced.

The worldview concept can be an effective tool for academic and practitioner educators to stimulate critical thinking about ethical foundations and conduct. This method supports inclusive teaching by identifying the diverse characteristics of the class, so the individual needs of each student may be addressed. Since students can become emotional discussing ethical topics, instructors may use this opportunity to re-focus energy to productive academic endeavors. Perhaps the focus on sensitivity to the needs of others and a commitment to better humanity can provide a foundation for reducing egocentrism. By using this focus with the worldview concept, personal assumptions that encourage classism, racism, sexism, ableism and other prejudices can be challenged.

As an academic and practitioner instructor, I teach for a variety of organizations and universities. Each has different methods and techniques. However, I have applied the aforementioned methods, when possible, in all my classes. In some cases, this interjection was applied during group discussions or with follow-up questions in returned assignments. Thus far, this technique has been effective.

Although this approach is a simple application, the method promotes change and growth. As such, both academic and practitioner instructors can challenge students to identify agreements, common themes and differences. In fact, when discussing other worldviews and perceptions, dialogue opens between students. This has proven beneficial for engaging the quiet students.

For a final consideration, I offer some quotations that I feel applicable to ethics in homeland security:

I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law. 

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it -- Aristotle

[The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s, and not those of Liberty University.]