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Ethics Applies Everywhere

This article originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here

In most academic fields, it’s standard practice to have research vetted by ethics and integrity boards. However, the field of creative practice has lacked guidelines in this area — until an international team of education professionals that includes Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) Professor Diane Zeeuw decided to take on the challenge of developing them.

In late 2015, the team received a $215,000 research grant from the Australian Office of Learning and Teaching to help shape the global conversation around ethics and research integrity training in the creative arts. The aim of the project is to “develop a robust, innovative, and ethically informed research ethics culture in the creative arts and design through equipping our graduates with the ethical know-how for their real-world professions as artists and designers.”

Diane ZeeuwDiane Zeeuw

Now in the first stages of the project, the team is gathering information via interviews and an online survey. Analyzing this information will allow the team to compile a shared vocabulary of ethics terms, case studies, and best practices, which it will share in an online tool kit and several workshops.

The guidelines would be applicable to any projects that involve interruptive elements, case studies, or other situations with a possible impact on animals or people. Asked why creative arts need their own set of guidelines, Zeeuw, who serves as chair of both the Painting and Master of Arts in Critical and Visual Studies programs at KCAD, explains, “The arts have an anti-aesthetic history in which societal norms are being challenged. The question is, how do you fit that tradition in with academia and its principles and rules? We’re looking for a way to talk across that divide by producing a document with recommended ethics and integrity procedures for creative arts research.”

One of the issues they’re exploring is whether or not ethics vetting puts undue limits on creativity. “I don’t know what the respondents in our survey have said yet,” Zeeuw explains, “but in my experience, when students are asked to think about the impact of their work, it enriches their experience in many ways.” In addition to understanding and planning for the ways in which the work might affect people or animals, ethics and integrity guidelines may teach students how to credit and source information properly and how to add their voices to the cultural conversation on a wide range of topics.

“You always hope you’re sending students into the world with a better sense of how to consider the impact of what they do. That’s a life skill. How they develop that is as important as what they do creatively,” says Zeeuw.

While KCAD has been exploring the issues of ethics and visual representation for over 20 years, Zeeuw’s involvement in driving global conversation on the topic presents an opportunity to develop a more formal process for vetting the ethics and integrity of creative research at the college. Zeeuw looks forward to sharing the team’s findings with her colleagues and students at KCAD and other institutions of higher learning around the world. By doing so, Zeeuw expects ethics and integrity in creative practice to become a bigger part of the conversation in higher education.

She adds, “It’s a conversation whose time has come."

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