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Ethics Flag Criteria and Interpretation


The following criterion was developed and approved by the Faculty Council.

To satisfy the Ethics Flag, at least one-third of the course grade* must be based on work in practical ethics, i.e., the study of what is involved in making real-life ethical choices.

*For three- or four-credit courses. For two-credit hour courses, at least one-half of the course grade should be based on Flag content.


The following interpretation was developed by the faculty committee that oversees the Ethics Flag and was approved by the Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee.

The University of Texas at Austin is committed to educating students both to think and act ethically. Each course that carries the Ethics flag should teach students to identify ethical issues and to apply ethical reasoning to real-world situations. It is not our goal to teach students a specific code of ethics or a particular understanding of what constitutes right and wrong behavior. Rather, our goal is to teach students ethical reasoning – how to think critically about, and apply their values to, situations involving ethical decision-making. We want our students to have the tools they need to be their “best selves” when they face ethical choices in their adult and professional lives. For these reasons, the ethical content of courses carrying the flag should be an explicit part of the course material and assignments. The study of ethical theory, the history of ethics, or intellectual history is not required for the flag, and such courses will not be flagged unless the connection to real-life choices is made concrete.

The committee understands the phrase “real-life ethical choices” to mean that the ethics component of any course must be made relevant to students’ lives. Nonetheless, the committee believes that this flag is broadly applicable to courses across the curriculum, including courses in the humanities where the ethical content might stem from past events or fiction. In such cases, the ethical content cannot remain implicit; rather, it must be clear how it engages students in the process of ethical reasoning. In addition, the course should give students an opportunity to apply this content to questions or problems that are relevant to their adult and professional lives.

The committee understands ethics to be crucial to good leadership. Regardless of his or her rank or power status, a person shows ethical leadership by setting a good example to others or taking initiative to encourage ethical action or discourage unethical action. Therefore, courses in professionalism or leadership may be counted, but only when there is an integrated focus on practical ethics.