May 31, 2005
Retiring Fowler takes Scholar/Teacher award
BY michael terrazas
They gathered in the Emory Conference Center’s Silverbell Pavilion, late afternoon sun streaming through the room’s windowed walls, and they used words like Dreamer. Visionary. Builder. And, most appropriately, Scholar and Teacher.
They were the friends, family and colleagues of Jim Fowler, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development, founding director of Emory’s Center for Ethics—and 2005 winner of the University Scholar/Teacher Award. Fowler formally received the award onstage at the main Commencement ceremony, May 16, but five days earlier the well-wishers gathered to pay tribute as Fowler steps into retirement.
“The majority of our colleagues end up teaching and publishing, but only a few achieve that third kind of immortality—to build,” Provost Earl Lewis said of Fowler’s achievements since the ethics center’s founding in 1994.
“It is the University’s pleasure,” President Jim Wagner said, “to say it can reach credibly for [an ethical] vision because of the leadership Jim Fowler and the ethics center have shown.”
“That this is a remarkable man,” said Kathy Kinlaw, associate director of the ethics center. “All of us have been touched by [him] in so many ways.”
When it came his time to speak, Fowler with characteristic humility deflected much of the credit for the Center for Ethics’ success to colleagues such as Kinlaw and Paul Ficklin-Alred (assistant director for administration) and to his faculty and staff. He made a point to thank Jeff Rosensweig, associate dean of Goizueta Business School, for leading the faculty board; and John Wieland, founding chair of the advisory council, for his leadership and for generously investing in the future of the center. “Emory can be—and is—unique in having created a place where faculty, staff and students can gather together and discuss things that matter from an ethical point of view,” Fowler said. “Many people have invested in helping Emory become the most ethical place it can be.”
Fowler, a Candler School of Theology faculty member since 1977, later offered his hopes for the center’s future, as well as advice for young faculty who aspire to be the kind of scholar-teacher he himself has been for some four decades.
“Do what you can to help form and sustain a sense of community, and care for the University,” he said. “This means keeping in mind how your discipline and the substance of your teaching may interact with other areas students may be pursuing, and it means intentionally cultivating conversation and engagement with colleagues in other fields and professions.
“And, insofar as you are able,” he added, “be attentive to the vulnerable humanity of each of your students.”
As it loses the wisdom and guidance of the only full-time director it has known, the ethics center may itself appear somewhat vulnerable. But with a University administration that takes its ethical obligation so seriously it’s written into Emory’s vision statement, Fowler knows the center is destined for even greater things. He expressed a wish for initiatives like the D. Abbott Turner Program of Ethics and Servant Leadership, and the Science, Ethics and Society Program, to grow, and he looked forward to the completion of the new home whose physical foundation may have yet to be laid, but whose intellectual and spiritual footings he’s long helped pour.
“With imaginative and well-prepared leadership, and a full partnership with the colleges and graduate and professional schools, Emory’s Center for Ethics has the potential to become the most comprehensive and effective ethics enterprise in American higher education,” Fowler said.