Sonu Bedi becomes Ethics Institute director

by Sunpreet Singh | 4/14/17 2:00am

Government professor Sonu Bedi was recently named the first Hans ’80 and Kate Morris Director of the Ethics Institute. He assumed his new role on March 15 and will be working to review the ethics minor and increase the level of student engagement outside of the classroom.

His position includes overseeing the Ethics Institute, which fosters the teaching and study of ethics throughout the College and comprises more than 150 faculty and staff. Founded in 1982, the institute is one of the oldest ethics organizations in the United States.

Bedi, who has six degrees including a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Yale University, was asked by sociology professor and vice provost for academic initiatives Denise Anthony to be the director. Bedi said he thinks his appointment was partially due to his dual background in political theory and law.

“I both have my foot in constitutional law and law-related issues but also political philosophy and ethics broadly construed.” Bedi said. “The core courses of the ethics minor come from the political theory part of government or from philosophy, and I have interests in both.”

Anthony said that she has known Bedi for several years and thinks his experience in political theory and law help him effectively make connections between core legal concepts such as rights and current political conditions in modern American society.

She said the Ethics Institute practically applies the concept of ethics into practical application across many disciplines to help students and faculty understand what it means to talk about ethics and its role in professional practice and the institutions in which we live.

“The fact that Bedi has worked with law and ethics in American institutions make him a great fit for the job,” Anthony said. “Bedi himself is a multidisciplinary scholar and his ability to bring together faculty and students into this conversation to think critically about ethical questions makes him a great fit.”

Bedi said his research intersects nicely with his new role with the institute. He is currently working on a book project about ethics in markets and racial discrimination that occurs in private spheres such as assisted reproduction, which is closely tied to issues raised in ethics courses.

Bedi said he will be working on reconstituting an advisory committee that reviews the ethics minor and assesses what has been effective and what has not. He added that he intends to reach out to current students to hear their experiences and that these initiatives will be an ongoing process based on review and feedback.

The Ethics Institute also has endowment funds to bring speakers to come to campus, which Bedi said he wishes to use to give students more exposure to the legal field.

“My background is in law, and in one sense we don’t have a law school here,” Bedi said. “My vision for the institute is that it will be a place where students can hear speakers and interact on law-related issues broadly defined.”

One speaker event has already been arranged for the beginning of fall 2017. Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who worked in the White House Counsel’s office, will be coming to speak about President Donald Trump and legal ethics.

Bedi said discussion about legal ethics and ethics in general on campus is especially crucial given the current presidential administration. He said he is thinking about using the endowment funds to create a lecture series on free speech in universities. The first speaker for this series will be Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

The Ethics Institute has already brought law experts to campus such as Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar 2015. Georgetown University Law Center professor Neal Katyal ’91 will be coming to the College this upcoming May under the leadership of the institute’s executive director Aine Donovan. Bedi will be working with Donovan who will continue her role at the institute in programming and academic coordination.

Bedi said that his larger goal is to raise the scholarly profile of the institute on and off campus by establishing a stronger presence of academic and extracurricular law and ethics opportunities on campus.

He also said that he wants to focus on getting students more involved in interacting with speakers, because he thinks students can often feel intimidated by other faculty members asking questions and the often high-profile nature of the speakers.

“I think students can benefit from discussions in small group settings after the talks to interact with the scholars in more intimate settings,” Bedi said.

Anthony said that she anticipates Bedi will work with faculty to re-imagine the ethics minor and try to make sure that it has the courses and content that it needs, as well as incorporate projects and experiential-based learning.

She said Bedi has ideas to build a law-related scholarly community on campus between students and faculty by continuing to bring in eminent scholars, speakers and writers.

Bedi said he hopes to create a fellowship program analogous to the Dickey Center’s War and Peace Fellows program.

Billy Kosmidis ’19 said that he chose to pursue the ethics minor because he did a law internship over his freshman summer and knew he wanted to go to law school but did not know what opportunities there were on campus to discuss law-related issues.

“It is hard as an undergraduate to explore things related to law since there isn’t a pre-law track like there is a pre-med track,” Kosmidis said. “I think ethics is really interesting because it is an interdisciplinary minor that allows me to explore my interests while taking diverse classes.”

Kosmidis added that he appreciates the institute’s initiatives, such as the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Team and a book club for ethics minors. However, Kosmidis said that he thinks that the institute needs more people to implement all of its ideas.

“I am hoping that with the appointment of the new director there can be more programming and resources for students,” Kosmidis said. “The Ethics Institute is lacking the extracurricular involvement, and I think that they are doing an amazing job on the academics side, but providing more outside of the classroom experiences for students can be a great way to move the institute forward and provide hands-on learning.”