From where I sit - Ethical engagement

December 15, 2011

In Mexico, shortly after Felipe Calderon took the presidential office in December 2006, he launched a major crackdown on the country's drug cartels. Since then, it has been estimated that about 45,000 people have been killed.

I will make no effort to downplay the grief that these tragic events have caused thousands of people in a country racked by ruinous drug-related violence. What I do want to communicate is what many Mexicans are trying to do to ameliorate the state of chaos in our country: to do so, allow me to tell you about the efforts of the institution where I work.

The Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM) is a Mexican university. It has 31 campuses situated throughout the country, about 92,000 students and almost 9,000 faculty members. For about seven years, it has been Monterrey Tech's goal to modify its entire core and curriculum so that every student and scholar involved with the university addresses Mexico's current problems.

This is being done through an ethical strategy, "ethics across the curriculum". As part of the strategy, every Monterrey Tech student must complete at least 480 hours of community service in institutions that serve social and civil purposes.

In addition to the community service, students and professors can also initiate or propose sustainable projects designed to alleviate economic, educational and social problems.

In 2009, about 1,751 such projects were offered throughout the ITESM system, including medical services, micro-lending programmes and educational outreach, among others.

Education must be a means to the end of serving society - every student and professor at Monterrey Tech ought to be a conductor of social change. The value of ethics, society, citizenship and democracy are the primary focus of our educational goals.

Mexico's drug-related problems are rooted in a lack of social conscience and responsibility - qualities that every citizen must come to recognise are intrinsic to allowing us to share time and space with others peacefully.

A subway system works if every individual - or at least most of them - agrees to pay the designated train fare. But what if someone comes along and decides to cheat and not pay - and in addition sees himself as "more intelligent" than the rest of us who do pay? This is a scenario that illustrates the nature of broken societies such as Mexico's.

"More intelligent" implies that these selfish people have a greater capability to cheat the system. However, what would happen if all of us decided to be as "intelligent" as the cheater? Society would cease to function.

Ethics across the curriculum at ITESM is striving to create a collective-action conscience in every student and the people we are trying to serve through community service.

Every morning I go to school and contribute my grain of sand, believing that a transformation will eventually come. I have experienced education's power to change the lives of individuals, and individuals are the protagonists in any given society.

I need to reaffirm my conviction on a daily basis; I also need to believe that through education we will defeat the colossal social problems that Mexico now faces.

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