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Brian Schrag: 20 Years Guiding the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics

When Brian Schrag was hired as the executive secretary of the newly formed Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, the Association was only a dream waiting to be created into a national and then international organization. Brian started with an office and a small budget from a grant, recruiting members and planning the first annual meeting as a focal point for the membership. Brian explained, "I spent part of the first summer visiting the executive committee members at their centers, hearing their visions and ideas of what the Association could be. Not surprisingly, the visions didn't always match." Schrag noted that, from the beginning, the aim of the Association was to create a forum for ethicists and practitioners for work in practical ethics and practical ethics education across disciplines and across professions, where no such forum previously existed. Over the twenty years since its founding, Brian has led the Association and its growth with patience, perseverance, grace, and dedication.

Brian is a graduate of Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, with a master's in philosophy from the University of Iowa and a PhD in philosophy from Vanderbilt University. He taught math and science in secondary schools for several years before attending graduate school. After graduate school, Brian was a tenured faculty member and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia where he was the recipient of the Cabell Distinguished Teaching Award, as well as the Pratt Award for Excellence in Teaching. Prior to accepting a position as Academic Dean at his alma mater of Bethel College in 1985, Brian spent a year at Indiana University in a year-long NEH seminar on medical ethics with David H. Smith. He stayed on an additional two years directing seminars in Corporate Responsibility for corporate executives and Ethics for Health Care Professionals at the Poynter Center as a visiting scholar. Thus, when the newly formed association that would be housed at the Poynter Center began its search for a director, Brian was an ideal choice to be its pioneer.

The Association began with a three year grant from the Lilly Endowment, but when that funding ended, the organization needed a variety of revenue streams to carry it forward. Brian often taught courses in addition to his fulltime administrative and research duties. He also created a number of workshops. The first, with the Hastings Center, was a workshop in Colorado Springs, "Ethics: Practice and Teaching." That workshop continued for a number of years in partnership with Deni Elliott at the University of Montana. A number of other workshops were offered, often with a partner, setting a pattern of cooperative ventures that continues to this day. One recent collaborative workshop led to one of the first books on the ethics of academic administration (The Ethical Challenges of Academic Administration, Springer 2010). Brian also established an annual drive to support the work of the Association.

In 1995 Brian, as Principal Investigator, and the Association were awarded a three year National Science Foundation Grant for Graduate Research Ethics Education (GREE). That program, which eventually extended over eight years, included an annual workshop at Indiana University for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in science and engineering from all over the United States. As part of the project, before, during, and after each workshop, the participants prepared and rewrote cases and commentaries. Under Brian's leadership, the Association published seven volumes of cases with commentaries on research ethics that can be used for discussion and teaching. Over 2,000 volumes have been used in more than 165 universities in the United States as well as at least 26 universities in a dozen other countries. Brian concluded, "GREE was a smashing success from the very first year, based both on reviews and on what the students have accomplished since."

In addition to sponsoring summer workshops and other programs throughout the year, the Association holds an annual meeting as its capstone event. That meeting has grown substantially over the years, in part because of Brian's careful attention to the development of the program and to hosting related groups. The Association had its own Oxford Series in Practical Ethics for many years, and has nurtured the development of many papers and books at the annual meeting. Schrag developed the colloquium for ethics center directors, an annual opportunity for directors to share common concerns, and he established a seminar for graduate students for teaching ethics. From the beginning Brian has worked with volunteers to create a "Mini-Conference" on a specific topic that starts Saturday afternoon and ends Sunday morning.

One of the largest additions to the annual meeting was Ethics BowlSM, a competition among teams of undergraduates. After the program grew to 46 teams, the organizers realized they had to create a regional system to accommodate the growing interest among colleges and universities nationwide. Now, the top 32 teams drawn from the fall regional competitions compete on Thursday at APPE's annual meeting. Brian has worked with the volunteers who developed and coordinate Ethics BowlSM, and he has encouraged students to stay for the annual meeting by developing a program in which the Association pays the registration for most of the students who register.

Brian negotiated with the Responsible Conduct of Research Education Consortium to absorb them into the association in 2006-07. The RCREC has offered a variety of workshops, including a one-day workshop before the 2011 APPE annual meeting. Administratively, the organization changed the Executive Secretary's position to that of Executive Director in 2010 and changed the Executive Committee to the Executive Board.

For many people, the Association and Brian's leadership go hand in hand. David H. Smith, now at Yale University and founding chair of the executive committee, noted "With the support of the executive committee, Brian created the organization from nothing. This was no small achievement." As he contemplates retirement, Brian has focused on leaving the Association in a strong position. Dennis F. Thompson of Harvard University and a founding board member, observed, "Thanks in large measure to Brian, the Association has indeed won its future. Thanks also to Brian, it is well positioned to keep on winning it." As for retirement itself, Brian plans to write and publish, perhaps with fewer competing deadlines to distract him.