Ethics Center Scores $12M Donation
Posthumous Bequest to Create Permanent Fellowship Funding
The University Center for Ethics and the Professions, one of several cross-faculty programs within Harvard, has received a $12 million bequest from the estate of the late Lester Kissel `31.
The money will create the Lester Kissel Presidential Fund for Ethics, as well as the smaller Lester Kissel Endowment in Ethics and Values fund. The bequest will be officially announced Thursday.
The center will use this money to fund ethics courses and to foster faculty development in the field via fellowships.
Until the Kissel bequest two weeks ago, none of the center's fellowships had a permanent source of funding.
"[Until now] the distribution of the Center's available funds was left to the discretion of the University's president, at the advice of the center's director," said Jean McVeigh, the center's administrative director.
Now, the new endowment will serve to pay for smaller and shorter workshops geared to professionals who do not have the same amount of time available to a professor. The smaller fund will also support several short-term fellowships.
"We expect to take the results of our research on ethics into law and business firms. We know that this takes time, but this [donation] is a start," McVeigh said. "Our goal is to translate the results of academic research on ethics to the real world. Hopefully, we'll impact the person on the street through the application of concepts to real life issues."
Fifteen former fellows at the center have gone on to become University faculty.
"Some of the fellows who thought they would become investment bankers decided instead to work in areas dealing with ethics as a result of their time with us," McVeigh said.
"I especially applaud Mr. Kissel's commitment to stimulating and sustaining future discussions across all the professions and between the academy and the public," acting center director Professor Martha Minow said in a statement.
Though a prominent lawyer in New York City, Kissel was also an avid scholar of Hindu philosophy. His studies of human morals inspired an interest in ethics, eventually leading to his support for the creation of an ethics program at Harvard. It was former University President Derek C. Bok's idea to fund professors teaching ethics and to encourage instruction among the teaching community that Kissel found his cause.
Current Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine continued Bok's legacy by promoting integration of work and research among the faculty. As a result, 11 new cross-faculty programs were created-including the Center for Ethics and the Professions.
"Lester Kissel was, over his long accomplished life, a constant friend of the University. He was also an early supporter of the serious work of uniting ethical and moral considerations with the demands of practice in the professions," Rudenstine said in a statement.
The Center's website states that its mission is to "encourage teaching and research about ethical issues in public and professional life," and to "help meet the growing need for teachers and scholars who address questions of moral choice," while promoting "a perspective informed by both theory and practice."
"Lester Kissel had the vision, from the beginning of the center, to see the value of the study of practical ethics," said Center Director Dennis F. Thompson, who is currently on leave, in a statement. "The faculty, fellows and students who will benefit from his gift will be better able to pursue the ideals of moral leadership and public service that he cared about so deeply."