WMU News

NSF funds project to tackle ethical issues of research

Jan. 24, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- When faculty and graduate students from Western Michigan University face some sticky ethical issues this semester, they will do so with the intent of letting others across the nation learn from their experiences.

WMU's Center for the Study of Ethics has received a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop instructional programs for university researchers on how to deal with a variety of ethical issues.

The project, "Teaching Research Ethics: An Institutional Change Model," is a collaboration involving the ethics center and WMU's Office of the Vice President for Research and the Graduate College. According to the center director, Dr. Michael Pritchard, the project will ultimately result in research ethics models that can be used by other institutions and is especially timely, given recently enacted regulations that require institutions whose researchers receive federal funding to demonstrate that their researchers are versed in research ethics.

Pritchard says WMU's continuing evolution as a university with a strong research agenda makes it an ideal institution to lead this effort.

"Like many other institutions, our University is becoming more research intensive, but we don't have the benefit of experience when it comes to dealing with ethical dilemmas that established research universities may have," says Pritchard. "There is now external pressure for us to pay attention to these issues, and our project can provide models for other institutions to follow when dealing with these ethical concerns."

The project has established 20 "Research Ethics Fellows," who will form 10 two-person teams, each comprised of a faculty member and a graduate student. The teams will focus on different ethical research issues faced by researchers. Chosen this past fall, these fellows represent 14 disciplines across WMU, including biology, psychology, nursing, science education, mechanical and electrical engineering, and public administration. Among the issues the teams will tackle are research involving human and animal subjects, university/industry relationships, intellectual property, and the rights of graduate students.

"These teams are really a distinctive feature of our project," says Pritchard. "The same problems are viewed differently by faculty and students so this approach lets them share perspectives, and the result is an interchange and understanding on issues that affect them both."

The students and faculty members chosen to be on Research Ethics Fellow teams are:

Daryl Arkwright of Kalamazoo, a doctoral student in biology, and Dr. Susan Stapleton, associate professor of chemistry;

Kathryn Bell of Paw Paw, Mich., a doctoral student in psychology, and Dr. Richard Spates, professor of psychology;

Racquel Couto of Turlock, Calif., a master's degree student in occupational therapy, and Dr. Cindee Peterson, chairperson of the Department of Occupational Therapy;

Doris Dirks of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a doctoral student in history, and Dr. William Wiener, senior associate dean of the Graduate College;

Sonia Dias Cavalcanti Geurriero of Kalamazoo, a doctoral student in science education, and Dr. Harold Glasser, assistant professor of environmental studies;

Gregg Guetschow of Owosso, Mich., a doctoral student in public administration, and Dr. Peter Kobrak, professor of public affairs and administration;

Sherrie Maher of Portage, Mich., a doctoral student in psychology, and Dr. Mary Lagerway, associate professor of nursing;

Ken Marker of Ann Arbor, Mich., a doctoral student in paper science and engineering, and Dr. Peter Parker, associate professor of paper science and engineering;

Erik Pederson of Hartland, Mich., a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, and Dr. Ralph Tanner, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and

Kiesha Warren of Kalamazoo, a doctoral student in sociology, and Dr. Subhash Sonnad, a professor of sociology.

A series of seminars on research ethics for WMU faculty, staff and student researchers will also be presented as part of the project. They will include sessions resulting from the work of the Research Ethics Fellows teams.

Pritchard says WMU's project will not only develop programs to help institutions meet the new federal requirements, but has the added bonus of helping to prevent ethical problems before they occur.

"When it comes to ethical issues, you don't have to have bad people to have problems," says Pritchard. "One aim of our program is preventative--studying potential ethical issues in order to reduce the chances that we find out we have a problem when it's too late."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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