Skip to main content
Department ofReligious Studies


Margaret R. McLean

Margaret R. McLean

A Career Well Spent: Reflections on the Brink of Retirement

Margaret R. McLean reflects on her 34 years at SCU.

Margaret R. McLean reflects on her 34 years at SCU.

Thirty-four years ago, Dr. Margaret McLean came to SCU when she was still a graduate student to teach a single course on Christian Ethics for one quarter. Fortunately, she never left. Until now. At the end of this academic year she will be retiring.

Dr. McLean has taught highly popular courses in medical ethics and in ethics and science (especially biotechnology), her areas of expertise. She has also worked in the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, beginning as a Program Associate in 1994, then Director of the Bioethics Program since 1996. She also served as an Assistant then Associate Director in the Center. As a faculty member and in her role at Markkula, Margaret has created transformative educational experiences for students, providing them practical learning through internships at O’Connor hospital and other community placements.

Dr. McLean received her B.S. degree in biology from the University of San Francisco, her M.Div. from Luther Seminary, and doctoral degrees from both the Medical College of Wisconsin (clinical pathology) and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley (ethics). She has a significant community and national presence, serving as a consultant and advisor for numerous healthcare, medical, and research organizations and publishing on the topic in both scholarly and popular venues.

On the eve of her retirement, Margaret shared these reflections:

Next to my kitchen cappuccino maker sits the following quote from mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck: “What you really need to do is show students how imperfect people can be and still succeed.” Every day, I am reminded that, as teachers and students, we do not strive for perfection but for becoming the best versions of ourselves.

In many ways, I have been a standout at demonstrating how imperfect one can be at teaching. One of my colleagues has quipped that she often wishes that she had had the opportunity to apologize to her students for all the errors she made in her long, distinguished teaching career. My thought is that perhaps those imperfections were not regrettable mistakes, but lessons required for students to understand what it means to succeed.

Early on in my SCU career, which began as a quarterly lecturer teaching Christian Ethics, I made a startling discovery—that I never teach anyone anything new! We have all been doing ethics ever since we had our first experience of righteous indignation at the injustice of getting the “smaller half” of that gooey chocolate chip cookie. We make ethical decisions day in and day out, our only choice is whether we do it well or do it badly. My hope is that my students develop skills to do ethics well.

I was once asked about what led me to a career in teaching. My simple response was, “I fall out of bed teaching!”—I honestly cannot help myself. Although this is clear to me now, I had no intention of becoming a teacher until I walked into a classroom in Bannan Hall and with quivering hands and an unsteady voice began to teach. The unfailing support of mentors in the department—notably Cathy Bell and Diane Jonte-Pace—kept me coming back quarter after quarter, year after year, gradually carving out a teaching career spanning 3 decades. It has been the perfect, occasionally steep and rocky, path for me.

Of course, I will continue to fall out of bed and continue to teach in yet undiscovered ways. I thank you all, especially those who have sat in my classroom, for making my years in the department add up to a career well spent. I am proof of how imperfect people can be and still succeed.