"The Ethics of Citizenship": Making Real-World Choices Clear as Mudd
By Camille Hunt At the beginning of each academic year, the example set by Robert E. Lee teaches the new freshman class the difference between right and wrong. From the moment each new student signs their name in the Honor Book, they swear to uphold the honor of the institution but their promise goes further than that. Each W&L graduate leaves our campus with an instilled understanding of the importance of trust, which has for generations made W&L alumni so incredibly successful. So how can the Washington and Lee community expose itself to, learn from, and endeavor to solve ethical issues occurring in the world off of The Hill?
Chances are that each of us have walked past the building at the corner of Washington Street and Lee Avenue almost a thousand times, but we may not be aware of the exciting things going on within its red brick walls. The former Sigma Chi fraternity house, now the Mattingly House, serves as the home to W&L’s Roger Mudd Center for the Study of Professional Ethics. The Mudd Center was established in 2010 through the contributions of alumnus and award-winning journalist Roger Mudd ’50. Over the span of his long and esteemed career, Mudd won five Emmy Awards, the Peabody Award, and the Joan Shorenstein Award for Distinguished Washington Reporting. His impressive resume includes a stint as host of NBC’s Meet the Press and his infamous interview with Senator Edward M. Kennedy for CBS, largely considered a catalyst for Kennedy’s defeat in his race against President Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic Presidential nomination. Through Mr. Mudd’s generous donation, the Mudd Center has been able to foster discussion within the Washington and Lee community about important ethical issues in both the public and professional spheres, and provoked critical thoughts about today’s culture. The Center’s mission statement reads:
The Roger Mudd Center for Ethics is committed to fostering serious inquiry into, and thoughtful conversation about, important ethical issues in public and professional life. It seeks to advance dialogue, teaching, and research about these issues among students, faculty, and staff across all three schools – the College, the Williams School, and the School of Law. By facilitating collaboration across traditional institutional boundaries, the Center aims to encourage a multidisciplinary perspective on ethics informed by both theory and practice. Its ultimate goal is to provide the tools and resources necessary for thinking freely, critically, and humanely about the complex ethical questions we face in an increasingly diverse yet interdependent world.
At the start of each academic year, the Mudd Center announces a theme for the events it will hold over the following months. This year, it has chosen “The Ethics of Citizenship” for its 2015-2016 theme. The Center’s website explains, “This theme has a double meaning, insofar as we aim to investigate both the ethics of conferring or withholding citizenship status as well as the ethical rights and responsibilities that attach to those who are granted such a status.” The theme will search for answers to some difficult questions; their scheduled events touch on topics as diverse as immigration and climate change.
The Mudd Center kicked off this year’s ethical investigation by hosting Danielle S. Allen, Professor of Government at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. She presented on “Participatory Readiness: On the Liberal Arts and the Ethics of Citizenship” in late September to an audience in W&L’s Stackhouse Theater. Dr. Allen is a political theorist who has published works on democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought.
Melissa Lane, Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University, was also hosted by the Mudd Center as part of “Ethics of Citizenship” theme. Lane’s presentation was titled “The Democratic Ethics of Communicating Climate Change: Insights from Aristotle,” presented in the Northen Auditorium of Leyburn Library. All talks funded by the Mudd Center are open to students, faculty, and staff free of charge.
In addition to its impressive list of upcoming speakers, the Mudd Center also looks forward to sponsoring the 2015 Business Ethics Institute, which will take place this December. Professional Ethics Institutes are two-day events involving a public keynote lecture and seminars for invited participants. They focus on ethical case studies of professional areas such as the business, medical, legal, and environmental fields. The Mudd Center sponsors these events in conjunction with the Knight Program in Media Ethics.
There’s no doubt that Robert E. Lee would approve of the work being done by the Mudd Center today. The Center has already impacted the University in a big way, and it shall continue to positively influence our campus for years to come. Through the Mudd Center, Washington and Lee rededicates itself to pushing its students towards more fully embracing and contemplating our Honor System, encouraging us to debate and study the ethical decisions that we will face after graduation and beyond. For that, we gratefully say thank you, Mr. Mudd.