Published on January 13, 2010 by Kara Kennedy  
Posted by Kara Kennedy on 2008-02-04

Universities of higher education should reclaim a commitment to the formation of good citizens and moral leaders, said visiting professor John Knapp, director of Center of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University's J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Knapp delivered this message recently before more than 200 students and faculty at Samford University's Brock School of Business. His talk focused on the need for higher education to continue to reclaim a commitment to the formation of good citizens and moral leaders.

Knapp explained how he and other university presidents came together at the University of Oxford in England for serious conversation on the purposes of higher education. After their week-long discussion, they developed a declaration of beliefs and principles for universities to use on their quest to reclaim this commitment. These principles are now being used by universities across the United States.

Knapp contrasted the meeting in Oxford to that of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, where apartheid was designed and promoted. Recently the university appointed its first black president and Knapp had the opportunity to discuss the meeting in Oxford and what resulted from it. In April, the Stellenbosch University will hold a conference similar to the one in Oxford to discuss higher education, ethics and leadership.

Knapp turned his discussion to Will May's work concerning public obligations of professionals. May is the holder of the Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in American History and Ethics at the John W. Klug Center at the Library of Congress. May's research identified factors that have led to the eroding of moral foundations of the professions.

William Sullivan at the Carnegie Foundation also has done work in this area and called for all professionals to perform as moral agents. Sullivan, like May, looks toward universities to lead the way.

Knapp believes that these themes need to apply not only to professional schools, but to undergraduate education as well.

Alexander Astin's research on spiritual needs and expectations of students and faculty find that at the freshman level, students have a high expectation of the role higher education plays in the development of their emotional and spiritual development. His research goes on to conclude that by their third year, few students believe their university is meeting expectations.

Why all of this concern now, Knapp asked? Have our universities really lost their way or could it be that something else happening in the world around us? He believes the answer is some of each. He said that it is harder to be human these days and that the ethical challenges facing the 21stt century's society are placing substantial burden on the shoulders of graduates who must provide leadership to meet these challenges. Knapp believes that it is very important for universities strive to be a community of moral purpose to prepare graduates to live and lead in a digitized and globalized society where the pace of change is quick.

Knapp outlined four marks that distinguish a university as a community of moral purpose:

  • 1. This type of university community intentionally provides space for individual reflection and meaningful communion with others.
  • 2. The university should act as a catalyst for civic engagement beyond the walls of the university. Social responsibility is practiced through service learning, community volunteerism and service-based study abroad programs.
  • 3. There must be a community-wide commitment to civil discourse on the difficult issues facing our lives and our world. The university must be the place where moral discourse is practiced and modeled.
  • 4. Finally, a community of moral purpose is one that takes seriously the promises made by its mission statement. Universities must have clarity about and commitment to its mission.

Knapp concluded by discussing the mission of Samford and asking if the university was remaining true to that mission. It states: The mission of Samford University is to nurture persons in their development of intellect, creativity, faith and personhood. As a Christian university, the community fosters academic, career and ethical competency while encouraging social and civic responsibility and service to others.  

He closed with the following thought: "May Samford always be a community of moral purpose, fully cognizant of what really matters."

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.