Let’s get ethical: a Sullivan story

By Morgan Vanwickler – Art Director

Every junior reaches a point in their college career where they are faced with PHIL302, better known as Ethical Reasoning. Most students enter the course having negative and preconceived opinions, but end the semester recognizing its benefits.

These same students are often introduced to Professor Thomas Sullivan under this time of stress and worry. However, an interesting concept offered by Professor Marie Franklin is that people tend to instantly dislike something due to a lack of education. This seems to be the initial case faced by Sullivan and the infamous ethics course.

Sullivan began his Lasell career nine years ago as the Director of Spiritual Life though he quickly moved to teaching philosophy courses, an ethics elective and a first-year seminar titled “Philosophy in Everyday Places.” His current roles on campus are a professor of the ethics course, business ethics in the graduate studies department and the faculty leader of the Shoulder-to-Shoulder trip to Tanzania. These titles are nothing new to Sullivan, for he had an extensive career before joining our community.

“I taught high school for a couple years and realized I love teaching but I was teaching religion there and I really wanted to teach philosophy, so I went back and got a PhD in philosophy from UMass Amherst,” said Sullivan. From here, his career of being a collegiate professor began. Sullivan first worked at University of New Hampshire as a philosophy professor. His courses ranged from business ethics to medical ethics to environmental ethics.

After nine years, Sullivan received an opportunity from Babson College and became the Director of Spiritual Life and Volunteer Programs. With his background in business ethics, he led trips to South Africa, Uganda and Sri Lanka to teach entrepreneurship; a more business-concentrated version of our Shoulder-to-Shoulder program.

Looking to step back from a heavy focus on business, Sullivan left to work for Roger Williams University as its chaplain, and then to his position here at Lasell.

Five years ago when Lasell began creating the core curriculum, the incorpora- tion of an ethics course was suggested. Originally, the college wanted it to be a day of community service for juniors, but as discussions went on, the board decided to establish the ethics course- with Sullivan leading the trial run.

For the next couple of semesters, Sullivan taught 10 to 15 students a similar course to the one we experience today, and received interesting feedback, “They all said, ‘well this is so hard’ but by the end they all left saying, ‘You have to require everyone to do this.”

Every semester, adjustments are made in order to better the course and benefit the students. For example, there used to be large-class seminars every week, and now students only come together in de Witt four times total. “A whole lot of people have the experience that they start out, they’ve heard bad things, they’re confronted with a new way of doing things… and it takes several weeks to adjust to that,” said Sullivan. Another adaptation to the course was of student teaching assistants, “We have students who had to work at the paper but then got it, so they’re very helpful then to people who have to go through the same process.”

No matter the major, there are aspects of the ethics course that everyone can take away, “There’s a tension between a genuine critical thinking class and a genuine advocacy class. The ethics experience is all about critical thinking and allowing for different points of view and in fact, encouraging different points of view,” said Sullivan.


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