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The Poynter Center celebrates its 40th anniversary

In 1972, IU alumnus Nelson Poynter had a seminal conversation with Chancellor Herman B Wells. Chairman of the board of the Times Publishing Co. and publisher of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, Poynter was concerned about declining trust in public institutions in the wake of the Watergate break-in. His concern inspired the creation of the Poynter Center to study ethics and American institutions.

Poynter building in fall

Impressed by the center's accomplishments, Poynter gave a second gift in 1976 to endow the center and establish it in perpetuity. The Poynter Center also receives support from federal and private foundations and from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington.

The center's current director is Richard B. Miller, Provost Professor of Religious Studies at IU Bloomington. He was preceded by David H. Smith, IU Bloomington Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, who served as director from 1982 until his retirement in 2003. The founding director was the late William Lee Miller, professor of religious studies and political science, who served from 1972 to 1982.

Over the decades, the Poynter Center has attracted scholars from around the world to study political and social issues, including medical ethics and bioethics; professional ethics; political ethics; privacy issues; death and dying; research ethics; moral and political psychology; and teaching ethics in the sciences and humanities.

"The Poynter Center provides a unique venue at IU for critically analyzing society's most pressing ethical questions," Miller says. "Our inquiry regularly examines such questions in both theory and practice. Whether the topic under scrutiny is health care, scientific research, politics or religion, the Poynter Center takes an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to asking hard questions about why humans -- individuals or in groups -- act as we do. Our aim is to transform how scholars and students interpret human behavior so that they can identify its morally relevant dimensions and implications."

In 1991, the Poynter Center collaborated with other ethics centers to create the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, which is housed at the Poynter Center. The center sponsors a team for the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition, which is presented annually by the association.

Ethics Bowl involves teams of undergraduate students from around the country deliberating about difficult ethical cases and controversies. IU teams won the national competition in 2004 and 2009, and many Ethics Bowl alumni have gone on to work in government, law, finance and consulting, among other achievements, often citing the IU Ethics Bowl Team as a key part of their college education.

Housed in a three-story clapboard building near IU's Maurer School of Law, the Poynter Center regularly hosts lectures, workshops, seminars and roundtables centered on contemporary ethical issues. Since 1991, the Teaching Research Ethics program, directed by Kenneth Pimple, associate research scholar, has drawn hundreds of participants from around the country and the world to undertake training in teaching research ethics or administering a research program. The Healthcare Ethics Seminar series, a popular event held each month during the school year and featuring an interactive discussion between medical professionals, faculty, students and members of the public on a specific topic in health and medical ethics, is another of the center's longest-running programs.

"The Poynter Center's reputation for ethics education and research is outstanding, and we congratulate the faculty, staff and students associated with the Poynter Center on four decades of excellence," said Sarita Soni, vice provost for research at IU Bloomington. "The center's research programs and workshops make a real contribution to moral and ethical insights on our campus, in our community and in the country at large."