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Prominent Ethics Faculty Lead New Initiative

U.Va. Launches Interdisciplinary Ethics Institute, Building On Tradition Of Honor At Mr. Jefferson's University

November 17, 2000 -- Questions of ethics are all around us -- at the bank, in the doctor's office, in court, at building sites, in corporate boardrooms, on job interviews, and in the classroom. We make ethical decisions every day, some split-second, some measured. These decisions on ethical issues large and small -- ending a life, returning small change -- are the building blocks of our characters and our lives. They make us who, in public, we seem to be and who, alone at night, we know we are.

Ethics is at the heart of an individual's character and a university's purpose. At the University of Virginia, ethical values were at the core of the institution’s founding, and honor and ethical discourse have remained central to its mission and traditions.

On Friday, Nov. 17, University President John T. Casteen III will establish the Institute for Practical Ethics to serve as the intellectual home for professors and students pursing interdisciplinary research, scholarship and teaching on ethical issues. It also will reach out across the University to support the creation of new programs in practical ethics and explore ways in which the study of ethics can be integrated into the existing curricula for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies.

"The University of Virginia has a remarkable group of faculty who are renowned in the field of applied ethics," said Casteen. "The creation of this Institute brings them together in an innovative way that will establish the University as an international leader in ethics. Our goal is to make ethics an integral part of both the undergraduate and graduate experiences so that it permeates living and learning for all our students."

With an announcement of new gifts totaling more than $600,000 and a strong commitment from faculty members from every school, Casteen will formally establish the Institute to foster creative programs in practical ethics that bridge real-world experience and scholarly reflection.

The new gifts are earmarked to establish a University Chair in ethics and to support two new educational projects — an interdisciplinary class for undergraduates on environmental decision-making and interdisciplinary seminars on values for graduate students in law, medicine, business and the arts and sciences.

John Allen Hollingsworth of Coronado, Calif., a member of the University’s Class of 1951, has pledged $500,000 in honor of his 50th class reunion in May 2001 to create the professorship in ethics. The new environmental decision-making course and professional values seminars will be funded by gifts from the Greenwich, Conn.-based Richard D. Donchian Foundation, which provided a $500,000 grant in 1998 to fund student internships, courses and lectures in practical ethics.

The Donchian Foundation grants are designed to help develop University-wide programs in practical ethics — focusing on actual ethical issues that arise in professional and public life — that can serve as a national model for institutions of higher education.

"In line with U.Va.’s Jeffersonian tradition, the Institute’s programs will enable faculty, students and alumni to connect the life of the mind with public and professional life in new and exciting ways," said James Childress, the Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Medical Education, who also serves as director of the Institute. "Interdisciplinary faculty working groups will be exploring new educational and research initiatives in partnership with professionals working in the field."

The Institute for Practical Ethics grew from a faculty working group brought together by Childress in 1996 to promote interdisciplinary discussions of ethical issues, collaborative research and team teaching.

The working group, which has evolved into a 16-member faculty advisory board for the new Institute, is something of a Who's Who in Ethics in America. Along with Childress, they include John D. Arras, the H. William Porterfield, M.D., and Linda Obenauf Porterfield Professor of Biomedical Ethics; R. Edward Freeman, the Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration and director of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics; Jonathan D. Moreno, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics; and Patricia N. Werhane, the Ruffin Professor of Business Ethics.

Other faculty advisors include Ruth Gaare Bernheim, executive director of the Institute; Timothy Beatley, associate professor of architecture; Richard J. Bonnie, the John S. Battle Professor of Law and director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy; David W. Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education; Brad Brown, associate professor of commerce; Jonathan Z. Cannon, director of the Center for Environmental Studies; Michael E. Gorman, professor of technology culture and communication; Ann B. Hamric, associate professor of nursing; John C. Jeffries Jr., Emerson G. Spies Professor of Law and the William L. Matheson and Robert M. Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law; Margaret E. Mohrman, author, pediatrician and co-director of the medical school's Spirituality and Medicine Curriculum; and Michael Joseph Smith, Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of Political and Social Thought and associate professor of government and foreign affairs.

In addition to its own programs, the Institute will work in collaboration with the University of Virginia's other major ethics initiatives, some of which have been in operation for decades.

These include the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at the Darden School, which was established in 1966; the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy, established in 1977, and the Center for Environmental Studies, established in 1999, both at the School of Law; and the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the School of Medicine, established in 1988.

Other U.Va. initiatives in the field of ethics include a $1 million grant from the Elis Olsson Memorial Foundation in 1996 that was divided among the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at the Darden School, the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science to fund endowed chairs in ethics and related programs.

The new Institute for Practical Ethics plans to draw on the rich resources and strong tradition of ethical thinking at the University of Virginia. The Institute’s goal is to encourage reflection on the complex ethical issues that pervade contemporary life and to offer insights that can help address the problems.

"This Institute builds on the strong ethical foundation laid by Thomas Jefferson," said Ruth Gaare Bernheim, executive director of the Institute for Practical Ethics. "Along with supporting prominent scholars and promoting interdisciplinary research, it will help us demonstrate the relevance of Jefferson's values in our increasingly complex world and will add depth to the Honor Code that guides our students as they address ethical questions throughout their personal and professional lives."

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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