The Northern Plains Ethics Institute (NPEI) had the first advisory board meeting on October 30, 2015. Following is a letter from the founding NPEI director, Dr. John Helgeland.
Greetings from the Northern Plains Ethics Institute (NPEI)! The NPEI was chartered by the Board of Higher Education in 1990. Since then we have presented the people of this region with a number of programs, town halls dealing with the ethics involved in business, agriculture, capital punishment, education and so forth. These offerings were well attended and noticed around the region; we intended to do more of them as time goes by.
After twenty or so years in existence we have come to the realization that it is time for us to make even greater contributions to the culture and decision making of this region. And a number of people have said so. In order to accomplish this challenge it has been obvious to us that we need to draw on the experiences and perspectives of many from various walks of life. There is, moreover, the need to be informed about ethical issues that perhaps would not occur to those who spend their working hours behind university walls or in libraries and laboratories. Our experience of life is real and vivid, but it could easily be considered “lop-sided.”
We reach out, accordingly, to the many men and women who can help us to overcome this narrowing of our experience. Simultaneously, we invite you to join with us to lead this region in the years ahead. Where we are heading is not necessarily wrong, but it can be helped and coaxed to the better and better, and, certainly to imagine the future from the perspective of a heightened ethical consciousness. We all want to leave our heirs (children or students) with the awareness that we thought seriously about their future, not squandering their legacy, but passed along wealth financial, moral, and substantial.
We know that, around the region, many look to the future in these terms. We are not aware, however, of any institution that systematically taken this view. Surely there are schools which give some thought to shaping the future, but all too often they are, like many of us, caught in the day-to-day concerns. Sports is a good example. Do schools exist to beat other schools?
Should you wish to decline our invitation, think about this: You should not shrink back because you do not possess an adorned degree in ethics. You were asked to join us because you were known for already thinking beyond the average. Surprise happen when like-minded people get together for a common purpose. Believe me when we say that we can produce ethical theory you can find over your head. But this would mean that we failed to lead you to make the contributions of which you know you are capable.
So we replace theory with two questions. First, what kind of a world do we wish to inhabit and, second, how do we propose to get these? This is, essentially, democracy in action-the key word in the above sentence is We. Our conception of ethics is not one telling another what to do, rather it is deciding together what must be done.
Some might say that this process will not produce a perfect solution. Beware the perfect solution: it must be 100% correct or we want nothing to do with it. So we want rather to make things better. The middle of the road it littered with dead jackrabbits and 100% solutions.
Will our work make an impact? Certainly! Because our group will become known for its serious considerations and its search for the better, the helpful and selflessness, it is hoped that it will gain public prestige.
In keeping with comments made above, we do not have all the administrative details figured out. We think we should wait until the advisory board meets and find out what their pleasure is. How many meetings a month, where, how long, and how are they conducted. We understand that the board is plastic, in fact, the whole world is plastic and is made and remade. We call that story “history.” We think we would benefit from a website. We might want to involve ourselves in major issues like Western North Dakota oil or moving the state to form a political, professional, ethics committee. What about a legislature that will not legislate? How public should we be? As long as we follow our state’s requirements for its entities, our drive can be limitless.