Although they took different routes to get there, two Kansas University professors agreed on the point that ethics will continue as a topic of concern in the 1990s.
H. George Frederickson, public administration, and Richard DeGeorge, philosophy, both said that ethical considerations will permeate politics, business, medicine and many other facets of our lives in the next decade.
The Hall Center Panel Discussion, held in the Adams Alumni Center, included a number of questions from KU faculty members who were among the 25 people in attendance.
Frederickson dealt mainly with political considerations. He agreed that issues such as homelessness, AIDS and abortion will continue to be part of the political agenda, but said ethics will dominate the next decade.
The first factor he pointed to is the increasing level of governmental corruption.
"We have mayors in jail, governors in jail, and had more than 100 government officials in the (Ronald) Reagan administration indicted," Frederickson said.
AMONG OTHER factors that will make ethics a big part of the 1990 political discussion are the fact that the public "does not equivocate" on political corruption and the media keeps track of it.
He also said ethics is becoming more institutionalized as city, state and federal governments start considering laws to regulate how they conduct themselves ethically.
All the attention on ethics will eventually result in less corruption in government, and the re-emergence of professional civil servants not tainted by corruption, Frederickson said.
DeGeorge dealt more with how ethics moved to the forefront in the 1980s, and why it will continue to be a dominant issue in the 1990s.
He said that during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, there was a greater emphasis on private morality. But, he said, as families, schools and churches have moved away from teaching issues of right and wrong, more public agencies have been called on to provide an ethical structure in society.
"I'm suggesting that because of the decline in the transmission of values . . . the failure and breakdown of personal morality, public ethics will continue of necessity in the 1990s," DeGeorge said.
He provided statistics to back up his theory, including what he called the documented breakdown of sexual morality.
DEGEORGE ALSO pointed to recent business scandals, including one involving S&Ls and one involving insider trading.
He said calls for universities to teach more ethics classes and for politicians to create laws on ethics "are all necessary strategies adopted by business and government attempting to make up for the demise of personal morality."
Answering questions from the audience, both DeGeorge and Fredrickson said their theories about ethics are much more than the "generation bashing" that occurs as one generation looks back at another.
Fredrickson pointed to the fact that urban areas have become much more dangerous places to live as a reason that things have changed.
Frederickson said an issue behind the focus on ethics is the basic unfairness of American society.
He suggested that if a certain percentage of Americans continue to be deprived, those people eventually will revolt.
"The gut issue is fairness," he said. "If we're talking about 25 percent of America is culturally deprived . . . all hell will break loose like the '60s, only worse."