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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


The Ethics Center's second home on Franklin Street

Like many elements of its Jesuit tradition, Santa Clara University’s commitment to ethics goes all the way back to its founding in 1851. The study of ethics is part of the institution ’s commitment to educating the whole person.

By 1986, the University was ready for an ambitious new initiative to provide a focal point for the ethics research and teaching that was already being carried on in various schools and departments. With a seed grant from Linda and A.C. "Mike" Markkula Jr.  and the leadership of SCU Management and Philosophy Professor Manuel Velasquez, the Center for Applied Ethics was launched that fall.

The Center’s earliest programs focused on helping faculty in all SCU departments integrate ethical issues into their teaching. By the end of that program, more than 80 courses, in addition to those in philosophy, included explicit discussions of ethics. Not far behind the faculty development workshops was the inauguration of Ethics at Noon, a series of lunch-hour discussions on ethical issues that continues to this day.

By 1988, the Center was expanding its reach further into the community with a series of continuing education programs for professionals, including a Corporate Ethics Program that brought staff and faculty into local corporations. A much-expanded version of this program, Partners in Business Ethics, remains at the core of the Center’s business programs.  The Business Ethics area also now offers an Ethical Culture Assessment, allowing boards of directors a window into the alignment between their espoused values and the culture of the organization.   

One of the Center’s key efforts in the early years was the development of A Framework for Ethical Decision Making, an easy-to-use guide to bringing ethical approaches into important life choices. Since 2001, the Framework has had more than 850,000 page views on the Ethics Center website.

In 1991-92, Communication Professor and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Thomas Shanks was tapped as Center director. During his tenure, the Center entered into its first community partnership—a joint program with local hospitals to provide ethics consultation and programs. A now expanded group of hospitals and health care facilities serve as sites for the Center’s Health Care Ethics Internship, which allows undergraduates to shadow doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals as they confront the ethical dilemmas in their daily practice.  The full Bioethics Program is particularly interested in ethical issues in the provision of care to vulnerable patient populations.

The Center’s Character Education Programs also took off during the 1990s, with Ethics Camp, a summer workshop for teachers, and the development of curricula for integrating values into the language arts, science, and social studies, both piloting during those years. The Character Based Literacy curriculum is now in use in the majority of California counties and in individual schools and districts all over the country. It has expanded to include materials for independent study and for Catholic schools, including the faith formation program Build.Plant.Grow

In the mid 1990s, Mike and Linda Markkula launched the Center’s endowment with a $5 million gift and the Center was renamed as the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. At the same time, Santa Clara President Paul Locatelli, S.J., had formulated the idea for Centers of Distinction, which would represent core commitments of the University. The Ethics Center was given this honor in 1996. To accommodate its growth, the Center got a new home in 1999, a suite of offices in the soaring Vari Hall.

In 1999, the Center partnered with the city of Santa Clara in a program to revise its code of ethics and values. The campaign ethics component they created won the Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities in 2002. And the Center launched its Government Ethics Program that same year. Today, the Center’s Public Sector Roundtable brings together locally elected officials quarterly to address the ethical issues they face in their work.  A special focus on campaign ethics includes the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) How to Run an Ethical Political Campaign--and Win.

In 2001 Kirk O. Hanson joined the Center as executive director. Under his leadership, the Center engaged in a major effort in global ethics, bringing to campus heads of state from countries such as Botswana, Jordan, and Australia.

Campus ethics programs  expanded under Hanson’s leadership. An endowment from Mike and Joan Hackworth underwrites Hackworth Grants for faculty and student research on applied ethics and Hackworth Fellowships, which support undergraduate-led ethics programming.

Located in the Silicon Valley, the Center has long been interested in the intersection between technology and ethics.  In 2012, it launched a new program in Internet Ethics with gifts from Noel Perry and the Markkula Foundation. With a special focus on online privacy, the project also sponsors the High Tech Forum on IT, ethics, and law. In 2016, a partnership with the Tech Museum of Innovation expanded the Center's foray into this area.  Through it, the Center helps develop an ethics component for the museum's exhibits and partners on a lecture series.

Building on a series of meetings starting in 2012 with journalism leaders, the Center developed the Executive Roundtable for Digital Journalism Ethics, which focuses on the particular ethical challenges of online news.  Growing out of those meetings was the Trust Project, an effort to make quality journalism stand out and to signal its trustworthiness to audiences and news aggregators.  

A revised strategic vision completed in 2013 led to an expanded focus on institutional ethical leadership and to the creation of a program in Leadership Ethics.  Center staff are active on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook in this and other focus areas.  

In 2015, we added a new program on Social Sector Ethics.  In that area, the Center is a replication partner with the Standards for Excellence Institute, allowing us to offer training for nonprofits and philanthropies on best practices in social sector governance.

In August 2018, Don Heider joined the Center as executive director. With a background in digital ethics, Heider has brought with him a wealth of experience and high aspirations to lead the Center to the next level.

Throughout its history, the Center has retained its focus on the rigorous analysis of real-world ethical problems, the development of tools for addressing those problems, and the dissemination of those tools to the broadest possible audience.

Aug 15, 2018