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QUESTION:

Are there any universities currently offering courses arming students to become whistle blowers in their future careers (or even while they are still a student at the university), if needed? How are the ethical issues (the course could encourage students to take actions (whistle blowing) resulting in harm to themselves, but not having the course could harm the society in the long term) in deciding to teach such a course solved?

MOTIVATION:

As an instructor in a faculty of engineering, I would like to prepare my students, future engineers, to the difficult decision of "blowing the whistle" (for lack of a better expression) on their employer if they see the need for it. By "preparing them", I mean making sure that they know

  • Definition :: What is whistle-blowing
  • History :: Famous and less famous whistle blower cases
  • Motivation :: Social impacts of past whistle blower cases
  • Legal :: (lack of) legal protection for whistle blowers
  • Technical :: Current techniques useful to whistle blowers (which might persist or evolve in time, e.g. Tor, Tails, Signal, etc.)
  • Conclusion :: The importance of creating a whistle-blowing culture

WORK DONE SO FAR:

A quick search on the internet revealed a small diversity of online courses of various length (which I list below), but curiously enough, no academic course. I am wondering if I am using the wrong key words (maybe whistle blowing takes another name in education, to "go under the radar"), or if there are reasons which make it harder for institutions to teach such a course (e.g. employers might be more reluctant to hire employees more likely to blow the whistle on them?).

  • The Corporate Finance Institute had the most useful material, but it seems more aimed at convincing high level corporate executives of why a whistle blowing policy is in their interest.
  • The Australian website sentrient.com.au has an interesting whistle blowing course, but does not seem to cover any of the techniques of anonymization which I would like to arm my students with.
  • Delta-net has a short (30 minutes) course which aims to "Empower employees to identify and report fraud and other wrongdoing under whistleblowing", including a section about "What anonymous and confidential complaints are".
  • Becker.com has an overview course of the role of the whistle-blowing in the workplace; an historic overview of famous cases and their outcomes; the Laws protecting workers’ rights in whistle-blowing cases; and programs, procedures, and concepts important to whistle-blowing laws.
  • Coursera does not seem to have such a course, but their course on forensic accounting seems to have a section on whistle blowing.
  • Glencora Borradaile wrote a book Defend Dissent (also available in Spanish!) based on a course she taught on "Digital Suppression and Cryptographic Defense of Social Movements", which should be relevant.

To clarify, I am not looking for a course which "does it all for me": I am able to do my homework and to create my own course! It's just that when I solve a problem, I like to look at existing solutions, and I was kind of intrigued by the lack of existing academic courses.

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  • Something like ocw.mit.edu/courses/esd-932-engineering-ethics-spring-2006 ?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 7, 2023 at 14:28
  • 1
    All the trainings I've seen with regards to research/academic ethics: research with humans, HIPAA, research with animals, conflict of interest training, etc, have a whistleblowing component to them. I would say in broad terms, I'm surprised by the limited instruction in these sorts of ethical areas encountered in other disciplines. In biology, these were all standard whether or not you worked with humans or animals.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 7, 2023 at 15:20

1 Answer 1

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Actually, I think a full course in whistleblowing is overkill in an engineering or other technical curriculum. It is too specialized. Maybe in law it would work.

OTOH, a course in professional ethics is certainly warranted in engineering and STEM generally, and the responsibilities and possible actions of witnesses to corruption and malfeasance could be part of that.

I encourage you to find resources on the topic, but also encourage you to think more broadly about ethics in engineering.

Also note that blowing the whistle on the powerful can be life threatening in some places. Even in the US, it doesn't always work out well for those who do it. But that is a societal problem, not a technical one.

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  • I would add a cryptographic component, about the tools that whistle blowers can use to stay anonymous and protect themselves. A whole course could be taught about those, so I do not think it would be overkill?
    – J..y B..y
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:49

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