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Spotlight: The Poynter Center at 40

Nelson Poynter and Herman B Wells worked on the Indiana Daily Student together in the early 1920s. Poynter went on to become chairman of the board of the Times Publishing Co., which publishes the Tampa Bay Times and Congressional Quarterly, while Wells became president of Indiana University.

Nelson Poynter

Nelson Poynter

Print-Quality Photo

In the early 1970s, Poynter expressed concern about Americans' perceptions of their government in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Wells, who had retired as IU president and was serving as chancellor, asked Poynter to provide funding for a project at IU to focus on those issues. Thus, the Poynter Project began in 1972.

In 1976, as the five-year project was about to end, Poynter presented the university with a second substantial gift to endow a center and establish it in perpetuity. At that time, the Poynter Project became The Poynter Center for American Institutions. In the early years, the center's work emphasized public policy issues and institutions, including the media and government, reflecting the orientation and interests of the founding director, William Lee Miller. The center also began its interest in medical ethics in 1977 with Lilly Endowment funding for a project on ethics, medicine and the life sciences.

When David H. Smith became director in 1982, the Center's range was broadened to include the ethics of the professions, especially biomedical ethics. Reflecting the expanded mission, the center's name was changed to The Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. During his tenure, Smith led the effort in 1990-91 to create the international Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

Richard B. Miller became director of the Poynter Center in 2003, dividing time between directing the Center and serving as a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies. Miller has focused the Poynter Center's work less on bioethics and more on the synergy between moral theory and practical ethics, addressing a number of timely topics in ethics and public life. He also reaches out to a new generation of faculty in different departments and campus units at IU Bloomington. A continuing focus of the center's work is preparing practitioners in a variety of academic disciplines along with industry professionals to teach the responsible conduct of research through the annual Teaching Research Ethics workshops.

The Poynter Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary this fall with a symposium on humanitarianism and human rights in the 21st century. More details will be available in the early fall.