Giving Away 100 Grand

Ever philosophical, Paul Woodruff was even for deliberative than usual last fall as he selected students for his new class. Not only is it the splashiest course to be offered at UT this spring, it also involves big money. Sixty-two students competed for 34 spots.

The Ethics and the Art of Giving is a philosophy course with a philanthropic twist. An anonymous foundation approached Woodruff, who is dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, about donating $100,000 toward it. If UT would offer the course, the students could choose at the course’s end where to give that money away.

Woodruff was intrigued by the idea, which the foundation had already funded at several private schools. He decided to make it a First-Year Signature Course. He thought he would find a social sciences professor to teach it, but the more he thought about it, the more he saw it relate to the philosophical questions about justice and ethics that he studies. Once Woodruff decided to teach the course himself, he asked interested students to write an essay about why to be generous, and he chose class members based on those arguments.

On a theoretical level, the students will get deep grounding in the texts of Aristotle, Confucius, Mill, and Kant. On a practical level, they will be divided into committees to examine and debate the benefits of giving in areas like the arts, education, medicine, human rights, and poverty alleviation. They will also be visited by nonprofit representatives (all the money must be donated to registered 501(c)3 organizations, and none can be given to UT).

Woodruff calls it a “live-fire” exercise. “Students will have some tough questions to consider and debate,” he says. “Should the money be given in one sum or divided? Should the gift be anonymous? What makes one cause more worthy than another?” Be watching at the end of the semester to find out what the students learn.

Photo credit: iStockphoto.


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