The "Ethical Forum" initiative

General information on the "Ethical Forum" initiative

1. THE OBJECTIVE

Background.
The growing internationalization of all scientific communities, the steady expansion of English as their lingua franca, the growing mobility of students and staff, the spectacular spread of computers and the internet, the growing reliance on various types of private funding to supplement public subsidies to research and higher education and, in our country, the gradual "de-pillarization" of society and the near-total decentralization of research and higher education to the Communities as well as European integration and the emergence of Brussels as the capital of the European Union, are so many factors that have profoundly modified the context in which the University Foundation needs to pursue what has been its mission from the start: fostering the advancement of science within Belgium.

A new initiative by the University Foundation.
In the pursuit of this aim, the hallmark and the "added value" of the University Foundation has always been to provide a setting in which scholars from all Belgian Universities could meet, irrespective of their ideological affiliation or mother tongue. True to this spirit but mindful of the deeply altered context sketched above, the University Foundation creates a common forum of discussion on some of the unprecedented ethical challenges - in a broad sense - which academics of diverse fields now face, whether individually or collectively, whether as researchers, as teachers, as supervisors, as authors, as recruiters, as managers, as users of libraries and data banks, as more or less occasional business consultants or policy advisers, or as participants in public controversies. The purpose is to share perplexities and convictions, starting from actual concrete cases drawn from various disciplines, and discussing them in a rigorous way that explicitly combines ethical concerns and awareness of incentives and constraints in the real world of academic institutions and market economies.

2. THE INITIATIVE

Themes.
Many issues could be usefully discussed in this framework. Among many other themes, one can think of Research funding, Human experiments, Academic freedom, Publication policy, Language policy in research and higher education, Recruitment policy, Research evaluation.

Format.
As a way of launching and testing this initiative in a modest, realistic way, the University Foundation organizes on a regular basis a half-day event on a particular ethical issue in the broad sense illustrated above, or on an interconnected set of such issues. The first such event took place on the 21st of October 2002 and was devoted to scientific publication in the internet era. All Belgian Universities kindly accepted to collaborate in informing their members about the Forums.

Web site.
The web site of the University Foundation will be used to publicize the events, to facilitate registration and to make relevant documents, cases, links, etc. available to participants and other interested persons.

Publication.
No proceedings will be systematically published. But if one of the participants is willing to coordinate them for an appropriate outlet, this is possible. Moreover, the internal magazines of the various universities and scientific institutions will be invited and encouraged to cover the events.

Further information on the Ethical Forum initiative and full description of the previous editions is available by clicking here.