The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Fr. John Jenkins lectures on ethics

John Cameron | Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Making leadership decisions in an ethical context, a topic University President Fr. John Jenkins is certainly familiar with, was central to a lecture he held Tuesday.

“The Ethics of Leadership” lecture was the second of four main events hosted by the Mendoza College of Business as part of its annual Ethics Week.

Jenkins’ presentation was structured around balancing the moral and practical components of making leadership decisions, both in and outside of business.

Jenkins said ethical leadership is a “practical activity” and emphasized the importance of not only developing, but also implementing ethics in one’s life and career.

“It’s something you do,” Jenkins said. “Be good at it.

 “If you want to be an ethical leader, pay attention to the small things,” Jenkins said. “It’s about the day-to-day decisions you make … Living an ethical life is about developing habits. If you develop good habits, they’re called virtues.”

Jenkins touched on how one should ethically approach especially difficult and complex decisions.

“Some of the toughest decisions aren’t public,” Jenkins said.

From his own experience, Jenkins put special emphasis on the line of self-questioning.
“What are the principles that should guide this decision? What decision can I make that accords with these principles?” he said.

During the question and answer session following the lecture, conversation quickly turned to Jenkins’ highly controversial decision to invite President Obama to present the main address at the 2009 Commencement ceremony.    

“This president is pro-choice, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s significant,” he said. “It’s about respecting the office.

“I know people seriously disagree and I respect that … You just have to do what you think is right.”

The session concluded with questions regarding the future and the challenges it presents to the University as a place of higher education and moral formation.

“It’s always difficult to be different. I think there’s a gravitational pull towards acting like others … I think we’ve resisted that,” Jenkins said, citing the University’s unique incorporation of morality, faith and service into academics and student life.

“In the end, it’s people who are committed to being different, to living an ethical life. That difference is sometimes the greatest challenge.”