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On the Hot Seat

By Jennifer Jennings '04

If you and your best friend were stranded on a desert island without food, is it morally wrong to eat your friend? Is it ethical to download music using Smith resources if the musicians provide the music? If killing one person would ensure peace for the whole planet, would you do it?

These questions and other difficult moral and ethical issues are discussed once a month in Smith's Campus Center multipurpose room by selected community members during a lively, lunchtime game-show-style event entitled "The Hot Seat."

The idea for the event was developed in 2002, a project of Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life, and Sadie Miller '03, former religious and spiritual life intern. Walters was considering developing an "ask the ethicist"-type program to bring discussion of social and personal ethics to campus, and Miller suggested putting faculty members on the hot seat and asking them tough questions. The product of these conversations was "The Hot Seat."

For each session, three panelists sit in the "hot seat" -- one student, one professor and a member of the administration. First semester panelists have included President Carol Christ; Justin Cammy, assistant professor of Jewish studies and comparative literature; Liz Leidel, SGA president; and Leon Burrows, Protestant chaplain. Walters tries to create a panel reflecting different opinions and disciplines. "It works best when people who don't agree sit on the panel together," explains Walters, who serves as moderator.

Walters begins each "Hot Seat" with a "lightening round" of easier questions. She then turns to more difficult questions of social and personal ethics that she finds through several sources, including the Internet. During the event, students can submit questions to the panel while enjoying lunch provided by the chapel.
At a recent gathering, Walters began the "lightening round" by asking: "If you were fishing for change in your pocket while standing in front of a cashier and you came across foreign coinage in your possession, can you pay with it?"

Cordelia Strandskov '05 answered first. "Sure, if they don't notice."

President Carol Christ responded: "No, it is not right to pay with foreign coins. "

Joel Kaminsky, associate professor of religion, answered last. "If it is a Canadian dime or quarter, sure, but not if it is another type of foreign coin; I don't think that is right."
Students say they enjoy hearing their favorite professors express opinions in a forum outside the classroom. Each lunchtime event has drawn from twenty to fifty students. "I enjoyed seeing faculty members and administrators present themselves so honestly," says Ruhi Rubenstein '07.

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