About 120 first-year graduate students participated in the new class designed to fulfill National Institutes of Health requirements that any student trained with NIH financial support undergo a well-developed course in ethics.
Susan Lord, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, said that specific requirements for what qualifies as a "well-developed course" are always evolving and that professors submit their class plans to the NIH for approval every year.
Although speakers and students discussed allegations of animal mistreatment made last April by an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who secretly videotaped her work at a UNC laboratory, officials said this new course was not a response to that event.
Lord said changes to the program already were in the works when the incident occurred.
David Lee, head of UNC's Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, said the class is a collaboration between departments in the medical school. Until this year, there were 11 separate programs in the medical school for graduate students required to take an ethics course.
Lee said that the individual courses were not as well-organized as the new combined program and that the material covered in them varied.
This year, stepped-up requirements from the NIH led officials in the graduate school to create a program that was more comprehensive, he said.
But ethics is something every student should learn about early, even without the requirement from the NIH, Lee said.
"We need to think ahead of time so that when we face these issues in the laboratory we know what our ethics are," he said.