President Ruscio's Remarks on the Inauguration of the Mudd Center for Ethics

This day has been two years in the making, and I am sure there were times when Roger was wondering if it would indeed come. He discovered virtues of patience he didn't know he had. My assurances that we wanted to get it right were, I suspect, only somewhat comforting.

But we do want to get this right, this Center for ethics. We are in this for the long haul. While W&L has long had an interest in the teaching of ethics, dating back to the Society and the Professions program begin by (Professor of Journalism, Emeritus) Lou Hodges and directed in recent years by (Associate Professor of Philosophy) Greg Cooper, the establishment of the Center represents an even deeper commitment, an embrace of the proposition that a college education and a Washington and Lee education in particular should provide students with the capacity to reason through the toughest moral and ethical questions history has had to offer.

The activities and the direction of the Center will unfold in the years ahead under the watchful guidance of our faculty and its director, Professor Angela Smith. My confidence in them allowed me to say confidently to Roger that if you give the University this opportunity, we will live up to the trust you have placed in your alma mater. Generations of students, faculty and alumni will be grateful for his vision and his generosity.

I look forward to what will unfold - to the events and programs we will put together, to the courses our faculty will develop, to the research they will undertake, to the visitors we will welcome, to watching our graduates become voices in their communities and their professions on matters of ethics.

But while I look forward to what the Center will do, let me say a word about what it will not do.

Our pride in forming the center should not be mistaken for hubris. We undertake this task with humility and in a spirit of inquiry. From the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, to Kant, Mill, Rawls and many, many others, the greatest minds of our civilization have wrestled with and debated the most fundamental questions of moral thought, of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, of obligation and responsibility. We join those debates in full force and with enthusiasm, but also without the pretense that are destined to settle them.

We seek to elevate our students' appreciation of those questions and their own capacity to address them independently. And perhaps along the way we can even hope to elevate the public discourse. We stand firmly on the proposition that ethics, integrity and moral imagination are central to a healthy, strong society. But to claim that we know all the answers and will distribute them with missionary zeal would be a conceit doomed to failure, an arrogance I hope we are incapable of.

My wish is that in the near future and far beyond, our students will say that their lives were enriched by having had the opportunity during their time at W&L to grapple with challenging moral and ethical dilemmas as preparation for those that they will inevitably face throughout their lives and that they develop courage of their convictions, but also the humility to question their own assumptions and learn from others.

An ethical life is one of intellectual confidence but also one of constant inquiry and examination. It is matter of the heart and moral sensibility, to be sure, but also one of the intellect and the capacity to reason.

 

Audio of President Ruscio's Remarks at Mudd Center Inauguration