By Aleksandra Sidorova
The Institute for Ethics in Public Life celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday, Oct. 14, featuring remarks detailing its past, present and future.
College President Alexander Enyedi expressed remarks in support of the Ethics Institute, an organization meant to “bridge the gap between theory and practice.” Founder of the Ethics Institute Thomas Moran said in his speech that the institute embodies two principles: how to live a good life and how to create a decent society. Adding civic education to the many functions of academia.
Moran noted that the Ethics Institute is a unique entity that provides SUNY Plattsburgh’s faculty with opportunities for professional development, while similar organizations at other colleges in the United States instead invite fellows from other institutions. According to the Ethics Institute’s page on the SUNY Plattsburgh website, almost 100 faculty members have participated in its fellowship program, and more than 50 continue to teach on this campus. Moran said the Ethics Institute’s fellows are the “who’s who of college leadership” and they “carry the institution as leaders.” SUNY Plattsburgh is the only college Moran knows of that “trains its own scholars.”
Three former Ethics Institute fellows — Professor of English and Honors Center Director Tracie Guzzio, Professor of History Gary Kroll and Associate Professor of Public Relations Michelle Ouellette — spoke in a panel facilitated by current Ethics Institute Director Daniel Lake to discuss the Institute’s impact on their teaching.
Guzzio said that during her fellowship with the Ethics Institute in fall 2004, she developed a course that she is currently teaching as an honors seminar — HON116 Blues, Literature and African American Culture. Ouellette, a fall 2018 fellow, said it helped alleviate some of the “daily pressures of teaching” and allowed her the “pleasure” to take the time to think deeply and begin “a brand-new line of inquiry.” During her fellowship, she started to look into the emotion of awe and its “prosocial effects.”
The fellows also discussed the idea of a “silo” — a phenomenon in which academic departments are isolated from each other. Ouellette said the Institute was a place to have deep thoughts and “test out ideas.” Kroll said his spring 2004 fellowship allowed him to “see the nooks and crannies of every part of the campus” due to the cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental interaction the Ethics Institute facilitates.
“We need more places like the Ethics Institute, because this is the opposite of a silo,” Kroll said. “The physical space is as necessary as the idea of breaking down silos.”
Besides its fellowship program, the Ethics Institute’s weekly colloquies also invite SUNY Plattsburgh faculty and other members of the community to join scholars in various discussions.
Lake shared that he had been involved with the Ethics Institute weekly since joining SUNY Plattsburgh’s faculty. He became a fellow in spring 2015.
“I probably spent a couple hundred hours here, easy,” Lake said. “Teaching undergrad is fun, but interacting with bright scholars is what makes a career magical.”
In the future, Lake shared, the Ethics Institute will continue to expand cross-campus collaboration, similar to its Constitution Day observance in September, and continue the hybrid modality of its weekly colloquies. He also announced that the Ethics Institute will “revive” its fellowship program in the 2024-25 academic year to accept at least three fellows after a four-year suspension due to COVID.
“That’s four years too long,” Lake said.
The Ethics Institute also plans to work with students to promote civic learning and engage them in meaningful conversations. Students Nadia Potts and Brandon Wallburg introduced the Plattsburgh chapter of BridgeUSA, the website of which explains that it is a national “youth-led” nonprofit “organization that creates spaces on high school and college campuses for open discussion between students about political issues.”
Potts, the president of the chapter, and Wallburg, the vice-president, explained that, similar to the Ethics Institute’s colloquies, the club will host roundtable discussions for students to peacefully navigate the barriers of a politically polarized society. The club is in the process of obtaining approval for provisional status.
Moran also announced that the Plattsburgh College Foundation, a nonprofit organization that receives and manages gifts to the college, raised more than $230,000 toward the Ethics Institute. Jonathan Slater, professor emeritus of public relations who succeeded Moran as director of the Ethics Institute, also spoke, highlighting the difficulties of continuing the Institute’s work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I cannot tell you how inspiring my own work was,” Moran said, reflecting on the Ethics Institute’s growth. “I wish I had the tech skill to install cameras so the world could see what we saw on a daily basis.”