The Center for Ethics was begun during the last years of the Laney administration by faculty initiative and by the encouragement of President Laney and the then Provost Billy Frye. Conversations in 1990 between 27 faculty members from across Emory’s College and professional schools were stimulated in part by the decade of ethics seminars led by Dr. James Gustafson, as visiting Woodruff Professor of Ethics. These conversations led to the proposal for the development of an Ethics Center to serve the University.
Founding faculty recognized that Emory not only had Colleges on two campuses, six strong Professional Schools, and a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but that it also included a major research hospital, growing work in biological and biomedical research, and the research facility that is the Yerkes Primate Center. Moreover, Emory was a close neighbor to the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society. With the forming of the Rollins School of Public Health in the late 1980s, Emory—and Clifton Road—had become a place where ethical issues, national and international in scope, called out to be addressed. Emory’s momentum toward becoming a university of the first rank called for interdisciplinary and inter-professional growth in the ethics of research.
With support from the central budget of the University, a beginning was led by cell biologist Dr. Robert DeHaan, who served as director on a half time basis from 1990-93. Kathleen Kinlaw, an M.Div. graduate of the Candler School of Theology, with advanced work in Ethics at the National Institutes of Health, and a Perinatal Ethics Fellowship at Grady Hospital and Emory School of Medicine, was appointed Associate Director in 1990.
By 1993 the Center’s activities, largely in the Medical School, but also offering an interdisciplinary Faculty Ethics Seminar each spring, had grown to the point where the Advisory Council determined, with University encouragement, to search for a full-time director of the Center. The University committed support for this growth, and grants from the Cousins Foundation enabled work to begin in business ethics. After a national search Dr. James W. Fowler was selected to become the first full-time Director of the Center in early 1994. Officially he devoted 80% of his effort to the Center, while continuing to teach in the Graduate School of Religion and the School of Theology in the other 20%.
University support, augmented by grants, contracts, and gifts, gradually expanded to enable the Center to hire two part-time associates, Andrew Fleming and Steve Olson, who led in building courses in ethics in Business and Law, and in the initiation of a program on Ethics and Vocation in the College. Each year since 1992 the Center for Ethics has convened, led, and provided stipends for a two-week Faculty Ethics Seminar. Drawing participants from all sectors of the university, an average of fifteen faculty per year have participated, creating an ever-growing network of ethically competent and involved faculty leaders across the University. Some 180 faculty from across the University have been participants.
In addition to serving the University, in 1992 the Center for Ethics initiated and has led in the development of the Health Care Ethics Consortium. Housed in the Center, and led by the Center’s Associate Director, Kathleen Kinlaw, HEC has grown to a statewide membership of over seventy healthcare systems, hospitals, hospice programs and nursing homes. Among the strongest of such organizations in the United States, HCECG conducts research and holds four conferences and workshops annually to support institutional ethics among its members. HCECG has engaged in sponsored research on Ethics Near the End of Life, relating both to aging patients and to neonates and children. Since its inception HCECG has sponsored some 35 conferences, state-wide meetings, workshops and lectures, with 75 to 125 participants annually.
Early in 1995 the Center moved from the third floor of Candler Library to a suite of 2000 square feet in the then “Dental Building”—now the 1462 Clifton Road building. Upon his return from being Ambassador to Korea, the Center provided for five years an office to former Emory president Dr. James T. Laney, who was invited to be a Senior Fellow of the Center.
In 1999 the Center for Ethics received a $2 million endowment to establish the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership. Building on earlier work with undergraduates on vocation and ethics, for four years EASL (Ethics and Servant Leadership) has led academic-year mentoring and programming for select students, developed a summer internship program in ethics and servant leadership, and initiated a Minor in Ethics for students in Emory’s undergraduate programs.
2008 marked a year of new beginnings and explosive growth, with the installation of Dr. Paul Root Wolpe as the Center's new director and the move to our beautiful new west campus location at 1531 Dickey Drive, near Emory’s Quadrangle.