Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
June 27, 2000
Professor makes talking, listening to the animals a career
Prof. Ian Duncan did his doctoral research on whether chickens who live in stacked cages feel stress. Over the years, the Animal and Poultry Science professor has taken some ribbing from colleagues who found his topic "less than academic," but he never cared. That dissertation was just the beginning for Duncan, who went on to make a career out of talking and listening to the animals.
"Surely, we can tell by studying them if they are frightened, happy, frustrated or in pain," said Duncan, who incorporated his views into his "Principles of Farm Animal Care and Welfare" course. The course was recently honoured with the inaugural Animals and Society Course Award from the Humane Society of the United States, North America's largest animal protection organization. It was named the best established course from a variety of academic fields, including animal science, law, environmental studies, philosophy, psychology and biology. The winning course was selected based on how it addressed animal ethics and protection.
Duncan's course was one of the first programs in North America to expand the scope of the ethical treatment of animals from the home to the farmyard. It includes traditional lectures and discussions, but students also participate in role-playing exercises that deal with real-life ethical issues, debates and seminars aimed at developing confidence in expressing ideas. Students also examine the role culture plays in animal treatment and the origins of varying attitudes. The goal is for students to appreciate the relationship between ethics and science, justify a moral point of view, and be creative in solving animal welfare problems, Duncan said.
"I want the students to learn to be sensitive to others' points of view. I hope they leave my class with their minds opened up a bit, but I also want them to be confident to speak their mind."
Duncan has had plenty of practice doing just that, having spent his career in a field many still do not understand. Many people still adhere to the traditional Western view that animals have only instrumental value -- an attitude that can be traced back to the theories of Aristotle and Aquinas, he says.
"But I've always agreed with another school of thought, and philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it best: ‘The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? But Can they suffer? All vertebrate animals can suffer and therefore deserve to be treated humanely."
Contact: Prof. Ian Duncan Department of Animal and Poultry Science (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3652/3557 firstname.lastname@example.org
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