Ethical decision-making. It's Complicated.

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Students discuss the eight key questions in groups of four

Photo Credit: JMU University Marketing Photography Department


Yesterday, Dr. Brian Charette, associate vice president, University Planning and Analysis, lead a group of 30 first-year students through their It's Complicated session. The session, one of 146 similar sessions that happened simultaneously around campus, is the first Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action program students encounter during their JMU experience.

The program, now in its second year, introduces the Eight Key Questions (8KQs), a tool available to students to guide them in the decision-making process. It is the university’s hope that students will reference these 8KQs throughout their time at JMU and beyond when faced with difficult decisions.

The 8KQs are:

  • Fairness: How can I act equitably and balance legitimate interests?
  • Outcomes: What achieves the best short- and long-term outcomes for all parties?
  • Responsibilities: What duties and/or obligations apply?
  • Character: What action best reflects who I am and the person I want to become?
  • Liberty: How does respect for freedom, personal autonomy, or consent apply?
  • Empathy: What would I do if I cared deeply about those involved?
  • Authority: What do legitimate authorities expect of me?
  • Rights: What rights apply?


During the session, students were presented with the difficult decision of who to save in a faux crisis scenario. Using the 8KQs to evaluate various courses of action, students discussed how and why they reached various decisions.

Speaking to students, Charette said, “You have to make decisions all the time that are complicated. And they’ll be situations where no matter what decision you make, some good and some bad will come from it. It’s up to you to decide what decision is right for you – and that’s what this is all about.” 

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Aug. 22, 2014

Published: Friday, August 22, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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