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Xavier Magazine | November 18, 2017

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Universal Question

Laying out the facts about deforestation, climate change, species extinction and water depletion just wasn’t cutting it for Amy Frohlich, a visiting assistant professor of physics. Talking about those topics wasn’t complete without the human factor injected into the equation.

“It always led me to some ethical questions, and until now I have stopped short of addressing that in class because it’s a science course,” says Frohlich. So she made a proposal and her course, Our Universe the Earth: Ethics and Environmental Geology, became the one physics course chosen to meet the University’s ethics/religion and society (E/RS) core curriculum requirement.

The University is increasing its E/RS offerings, and, for Frohlich, it happened very quickly. Her proposal last September was approved in two weeks, so she rewrote the curriculum to fold ethical questions into the science topics in time for the start of the spring semester. She found the students more engaged in the topics when the discussions included issues of ethics and responsibility.

“We now talk about water scarcity, food resources and how larger populations affect the environment more than small populations do,” she says. “We look at a city like Las Vegas in the desert, and they use such a preponderance of fresh water to make it look like the tropics. It’s wasteful, and the question is why do we do this, and do we have the right to squander such a vital resource and such a large amount?”

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