Making Choices, Shaping Lives

Emory's ethics center fosters lives of moral meaning and ethical practice throughout the University

By Allison O. Adams

At twenty-eight, Andy Fleming had it all: an economics degree from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and a plum position with Procter and Gamble. "I was working for an extension of Cheer laundry detergent called Cheer Power Pouches," Fleming says. "It was the laundry detergent in a bag that you just toss in. Part of my job was to help find ways to entice that shopper walking down the aisle to grab our box off the store shelf instead of Wisk." By 1986, a year he dubs "the middle of the yuppie era," Fleming was well into a successful corporate career. "I was playing the game, and I was winning."

There was only one problem. "I hated it," says Fleming, who has also worked for two other Fortune 500 companies. "Consumer product marketing tends to focus you very narrowly, and I didn't have any energy for it. I felt like a fraud. Finally, my health started to become affected by how I felt toward the job, so eventually I left."

Over the next several years, Fleming's discontent led him to reconsider his vocation. In the year after he left Procter and Gamble, he wrote Getting Ahead Without Losing Heart, a collection of interviews with his colleagues and former classmates that documented a widespread malaise among his peers.

"Even though society was in one sense labeling them winners, they were very unhappy about what they were doing," Fleming says. After completing the manuscript, which has been used in courses at several universities, he returned to the corporate arena, this time as a consultant and trainer in leadership development and management training with Aetna Life and Casualty.

"I realized that I wanted to help people make more life-giving choices in terms of their work and how they shape their lives," explains Fleming, who left Aetna in 1993 to become a master of divinity student in the Candler School of Theology. The following year, he took on the role of program director of Leadership and Life-work in Emory's Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions. Through courses, retreats, and workshops with titles such as "Creating an Awesome Life (in an ethical sort of way)," he encourages Emory and Oxford college students to begin asking themselves the kinds of vocational questions he began asking at the height of his corporate years.

"A fundamental, underlying question of ethics is, How shall I live?" Fleming says. "The choices people make about how they invest their resources and energies are going to affect how they relate to themselves, to other people, and to the larger world around them." For many Emory under-graduates, such questions lead to more refined dilemmas they will encounter as professionals--inquiries that form the heart of the work at the ethics center.

In 1990, then-University President James T. Laney and Provost Billy Frye established the center in response to concerns raised by a group of faculty members about the sporadic way ethical issues were addressed in the graduate and professional schools. "They questioned whether there had been a shift away from a sense of calling in the professions to a more monetary-based interest, a loss of a sense of profession," says Kathy Kinlaw, who has served as associate director of the center since its founding.

Kinlaw, who specializes in biomedical ethics; Robert DeHaan, professor of anatomy and cell biology and the ethics center's first director; and the faculty group set out to help Emory students, faculty, and staff enhance the teaching and practice of ethics on campus and in professional life. According to James W. Fowler, director of the center since 1994 and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development, "We do find students still entering graduate and professional schools with high ideals, yet there's a side of them that wonders if they can carry any of that into their professional life. We're trying to create experiences that support [those ideals]."

Through its programs and practices, the ethics center calls attention to matters ranging from ethics on the Internet and conflict resolution to affirmative action and managed health care. It is precisely this broad scope that makes Emory's center unique among ethics centers in higher education.

"Instead of being limited to biomedical or legal or business ethics, we have the responsibility of relating to the entire University community," Fowler says. "We're an experiment in interdisciplinary, interprofessional work."

The ethics center's cross-disciplinary commitment has given rise to an eclectic slate of initiatives. Some thirty campus programs annually bring together the medical, nursing, public health, business, law, and theology schools to address topics such as decisions about death and dying. The center's staff of eight has helped formulate ethics courses for the graduate, medical, and business schools. Ethics center-sponsored fellowships and internships allow for focused study, lecturing, and writing on topics including perinatal ethics, moral controversies in international business, and human rights. The center also sponsors a group of representatives from Georgia hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities who gather frequently to discuss matters such as the ethics of informed consent. According to Kinlaw, "We bring them theoretical perspectives, and they help us critique ethics theory from the practice context."

The center's staff maintains a steady eye on such practical ethical engagement. "We think it's really important to invite people to speak about their work," Fowler explains, "to identify moments when they feel ethical or moral dis-ease with those practices, to narratize them and make them an object of reflection. . . . We want to enhance people's awareness of and trust in their moral imagination, their sense of being in an ethically questionable situation. We should be, as a university, concerned with the ethical dimensions of our practices and of our larger society."

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