Robert Earle appointed inaugural Wilson Ethics Fellow to boost ethics education at UNI

Robert Earle appointed inaugural Wilson Ethics Fellow to boost ethics education at UNI

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Robert Earle shaking hands with David Wilson

David Wilson’s $25 million gift to his alma mater is already making ripple effects throughout the university. One of these impacts is the addition of Wilson Ethics Fellows in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions. Robert Earle, assistant professor of instruction in the department, was named the first Wilson Ethics Fellow.  The surprise offer was extended to him by David Wilson in October when Wilson came to campus to announce his donation. 

“I've been trying to help grow ethics instruction at UNI since I got here in 2018,” said Earle. “The most exciting part about David Wilson’s donation for me is that we are able to hire another faculty member focusing on applied ethics instruction here in our department, for the betterment of all UNI students.”

Earle is the first of two fellows to be selected. The second fellow, once hired, will begin work at UNI in the fall of 2024. Both individuals are dedicated to expanding ethics education for business and non-business students at UNI. To accomplish this, the Wilson Ethics Fellows will collaborate with the David W. Wilson Chair in Business Ethics. This group will work toward increasing the number of Wilson College of Business students and non-business students who take an ethics course to fulfill their UNIFI responsibility requirement. They will also work to increase the number of business and non-business students completing the ethics minor through the Department of Philosophy and World Religions. 

A public face to articulate the importance of ethics instruction is crucial to accomplishing these goals.

“We tell our students who sign up for the ethics minor or who are interested in it that it's the perfect minor for any major,” Earle said of the 15-credit minor. “It helps students to stand out when they apply to graduate school or when they are in the job market and meeting prospective employers because it shows this is somebody who isn't afraid of challenging classes. They aren't afraid of discussing some uncomfortable questions. Most importantly, they care about questions about how we treat each other. Who wouldn't want an employee like that who is up for a challenge and cares about how they treat others?”

Robert Earle speaking with David Wilson

It will be the ethics fellows’ responsibility to teach Business Ethics and Society, which is a longstanding course required for management majors and other majors in the Wilson College of Business. There have also been discussions about adding a freshman-level course called Professional Ethics, which would encourage students to talk, think, write and read about what ethics means in their prospective professions, including the most common ethical dilemmas they should expect to address.

“No matter what a student chooses to do after leaving UNI, there will be ethical dimensions to what they choose to do,” said Earle. “Having been exposed to some of the central concepts, various traditions and important problems in philosophy will help students frame those situations.”

Of course, David Wilson himself is an alum of the Department of Philosophy and World Religions. Earle believes that Wilson’s success in the business world is a testament to the quality of instruction coming out of his department.

“When we found out about the donation we were thrilled that an alum of our department had gone on to do so much and was being so generous and recognizing from his days decades ago the importance of ethics and philosophy generally,” said Earle. “David Wilson was a philosophy student here, and he retained a recognition of that importance and some of those lessons throughout his life, and it's great that he's promoting it so vigorously here at UNI.”

Earle believes the creation of the ethics fellowship shows the broad importance of ethics and its implications outside of the philosophy world.

“You don't have to choose between being professionally successful and ethical,” he said. “In fact, the two have to go hand in hand.”

Ultimately, Earle is looking forward to the positive impact he will have on UNI students as a Wilson Ethics Fellow.

“It's a really cool thing that David Wilson is doing,” he said. “I am so excited that we're able to expand our reach of the ethics programming that we offer.”