Sharon Kay Stoll, University of Idaho
2011 Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values Panelist
Considered as a leading authority in competitive moral education intervention techniques for college age students in America, Stoll is author of eight books, including Who Says It’s Cheating? and Sport Ethics: Applications for Fair Play.
Professional Title: Director of the Center for ETHICS*
Institution: The University of Idaho
In what kinds of research and other projects are you involved at the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho?
Center for ETHICS* is dedicated to working with any population or agency that is focused on education about ethics. Most of our agencies or organizations are highly competitive including professional sport, collegiate sport, high school sport, the military, business, law, and so forth.
Can you give a brief history of the Center?
In 1985, a graduate student asked a question, “Are athlete populations as morally developed as a normal population?” As a coach and athlete, I answered, “MOST CERTAINLY.” However, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of the process of moral development nor what it was or how it is affected by experience and education. Thus when we started to actually measure moral development and then to actually teach moral development of athletes and coaches, we realized the importance of what a concerted effort in research, service, and education could make. We saw a place where we could effect change and make a difference;we walked through the door to the place and have been happy every since.
You have commented on John Wooden as a coach who emphasized the development of character as well as motor skills. Why are there not more John Woodens today in college sports?
Maybe we don’t have enough John Woodens because we truly don’t value the development of character; rather, we value the win loss column. We focus on the outcome and not the process—and that’s true in so much of what we do in education—especially at the university level.
Do you think that play and competition are sufficient to teach students ethical decision making?
Okay… however, one could be a very hard working, dedicated, persistent, cooperative, independent thief in a gang. The social values of what is discussed here lie in the accomplishment of motor skills. If only we would put as much time into the development of moral skills as we do motor skills, our work at the Center would not be needed. Unfortunately, seeing competition as its own educator is rather short sighted and naïve in thinking.
How does having celebrity status of young adult athletes affect their moral development?
I would like to believe that one could live in an entertainment society and be a moral individual. I also want to believe that one could be highly competitive and be a moral individual. This will only occur if we role model, shape the environment, and purposively educate about the moral self. The moral self does not just “get it” by being a part of a group-concerted effort; we must be focused on the development of the moral self and the moral self in relation to the community and society.
What should adult fans do and not do to be more responsible in their behavior toward student athlete celebrities?
Just thinking this is going to occur is losing sight of the magnitude of the educational process. I am not sure that a normal adult really “knows” about the moral view and the moral view as it affects competition on and off the field. There is a disconnect in our society about the moral point of view in relation to what is actually practiced as a fan, an athlete, a coach, a cheerleader, a band member, the president of the university, and so forth.
What led you to the field of sports and ethics? Has this been a fulfilling career for you so far?
I am a mover—I love movement. I want to move and I want others to have the great spiritual and thus the philosophic benefits of movement. It is a natural fit for me as a former athlete, coach, and lover of movement to dedicate myself to the wonderful positive and wonderful benefits of play, games, dance, and movement.
Do you play a specific sport? Do you have a favorite spectator sport?
Skating—Ice skating; dance, and a thousand years ago gymnastics. No, I do not have a favorite spectator sport—I enjoy watching and supporting people I personally know as they compete, play, dance, and participate. I don’t watch sport for enjoyment.
What main ideas do you hope to convey to your audience at the Institute that might translate to programs or practices that relate to moral development?
Moral development is not easy nor simple. One doesn’t just catch it. Moral development demands expertise and application and dedication. If only we put the effort into the development of moral development as we do with STEM. Wasn’t it Theodore Roosevelt who said, “A man in science and not morality is a menace to society”?
What advice do you have for students today in searching for meaning and fulfillment in their lives?
Find a passion—though usually passion finds us—within that passion look for the connections to make our self better as a human being and answer the question of how each of us can affect others to be better human beings.
What advice do you have for faculty and student affairs administrators in helping to guide students to pursue meaning in their lives?
Care about students as human beings—not as numbers—but as human beings. Once we care, students will ask for help and direction. If we truly care about people, that care should be reflective in our philosophy, our action, and our perspective.