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Safra Center for Ethics Honors Outgoing Director Danielle Allen at Symposium

Danielle S. Allen, the outgoing director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics, is a professor of political philosophy, ethics, and public policy.
Danielle S. Allen, the outgoing director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics, is a professor of political philosophy, ethics, and public policy. By Sophia C. Scott
By Rysa Tahilramani and Linda Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

The Offices of the President and Provost of Harvard University and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics held a symposium to honor outgoing Director Danielle S. Allen on Wednesday.

During the past eight years of her leadership, Allen established several major research initiatives at the center. Two years ago, Allen also made history as the first Black woman to run for governor of Massachusetts — though she dropped out before the primary elections.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow delivered welcoming remarks, commending Allen as the “ultimate boundary crosser” and “the exemplar of what we would hope we would see University professors doing” and praising the center’s work.

“The work of the center has never been more important than it is today.” Bacow said. “You just have to pick up a newspaper to see examples of those who would benefit from more attention to ethical leadership, to be schooled in what it means to put ethics at the center of everything that they do.”

The event also honored Lily Safra, the center’s namesake, who died last year.

In remarks honoring Safra, Allen recalled the “quality of her attention” and her message to “feel, acknowledge, and work on behalf of human dignity,” which she said continues to inspire the center’s work.

The symposium also included two panel discussions. The first featured Tina Blythe, Natalie M. Kofler, and professor Alison J. Simmons who lead the Democratic Knowledge Project, the Scientific Citizenship Initiative, and the Embedded EthiCS project, respectively.

The second panel focused on the Justice, Health, and Democracy Impact Initiative — a project inaugurated by Allen in 2015 with work on topics including genetics, alternative emergency response programs, and economic dignity.

Panelist and professor Nien-hê Hsieh praised the initiative, saying it “enabled empirically-trained scholars to become comfortable working through conversations about values with philosophers and ethicists, and vice versa.”

Hsieh added the initiative’s work was particularly important at the height of the pandemic because it brought together public health experts and empirical data to provide clarity to local leaders on mitigating Covid-19 more effectively.

“The recommendations were then adopted at every level of government,” added Hsieh. “So here you see then not just the development of a new way of pushing policymaking that is grounded with regard to justice, health, and democracy, but really the idea of impact.”

The event also featured pre-recorded remarks from University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, who thanked Allen for her contributions to the center.

“When she was appointed, I asked Danielle to continue developing the center’s intellectual vision and to build up the crossback of a community of scholars to carry that vision up,” said Garber. “She has done just that.”

In closing remarks, Allen expressed gratitude for the center’s affiliates and lauded its mission.

“Every human generation has to wrestle with hard ethical dilemmas, old ones, and sometimes new ones, those we’re now facing with technology, for instance. And because that’s the case, because this work is permanent and continuous, the single most important contribution there is, is to teach rising generations,” she said.

Though Allen will step down as the center’s director, she said she will still remain at Harvard.

“People keep asking me, where are you going?” Allen said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

—Staff writer Rysa Tahilramani can be reached at

—Staff writer Linda Zhang can be reached at

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