Santa Clara University

History of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Like many elements of its Jesuit tradition, Santa Clara University’s commitment to ethics goes all the way back to its founding in 1851. The study of ethics is part of the institution ’s commitment to educating the whole person.

By 1986, the University was ready for an ambitious new initiative to provide a focal point for the ethics research and teaching that was already being carried on in various schools and departments. With a seed grant from Linda and A.C. “Mike” Markkula Jr. and the leadership of SCU Management and Philosophy Professor Manuel Velasquez, the Center for Applied Ethics was launched that fall.

The Center’s earliest programs focused on helping faculty in all SCU departments integrate ethical issues into their teaching. By the end of that program, more than 80 courses, in addition to those in philosophy, included explicit discussions of ethics. Today, the Center continues to provide consultation on ethics pedagogy.

Not far behind the faculty development workshops was the inauguration of Ethics at Noon, a series of lunch-hour discussions on ethical issues that continues to this day.

By 1988, the Center was expanding its reach further into the community with a series of continuing education programs for professionals, including a Corporate Ethics Program that brought staff and faculty into local corporations. A much-expanded version of this program, the Business and Organizational Ethics Partnership, remains at the core of the Center’s business programs.

One of the Center’s key efforts in those years was the development of A Framework for Ethical Decision Making, an easy-to-use guide to bringing ethical approaches into important life choices. Since 2001, the Framework has had almost 1.2 million pageviews on the Ethics Center Web site.

In 1991-92, Communication Professor and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Thomas Shanks was tapped as Center director. During his tenure, the Center entered into its first community partnership—a joint program with O’Connor Hospital in San Jose to create an on-site ethics center at the hospital. The Center has since expanded those partnerships to include Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and Seton Medical Center in Daly City. All three are now members of the Ascension Health System. They serve as sites for the Center’s Health Care Ethics Internship for undergraduates.

The Center’s Character Education Programs also took off during the 1990s, with Ethics Camp, a summer workshop for teachers, and Character-Based Literacy (CBL), a curriculum for integrating values into the language arts, science, and social studies, both piloting during those years. CBL is now in use in the majority of California counties and in individual schools and districts all over the country. It has expanded to include materials for independent study and for Catholic schools.

In the mid 1990s, Mike and Linda Markkula launched the Center’s endowment with a $5 million gift and the Center was renamed as the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. At the same time, Santa Clara President Paul Locatelli, S.J., had formulated the idea for Centers of Distinction, which would represent core commitments of the University. The Ethics Center was given this honor in 1996. To accommodate its growth, the Center got a new home in 1999, a suite of offices in the soaring new Arts and Science Building.

In 1999, the Center partnered with the city of Santa Clara in a program to revise its code of ethics and values. The campaign ethics component they created won the Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities in 2002. And the Center launched its Government Ethics Program that same year. Today, the Center’s Public Sector Roundtable brings together locally elected officials quarterly to address the ethical issues they face in their work.

In 2001 Kirk O. Hanson joined the Center as executive director. Under his leadership, the Center engaged in a major effort in global ethics, bringing to campus heads of state from countries such as Botswana, Jordan, and Australia.

A health care ethics endowment created by the Andrew and Beverly Honzel Foundation in 2004 allowed the Center to expand its research in bioethics. Among the projects has been a study of pharmacogenomics and ethics, a research and training program on medical decision making for persons in the care of public guardians, and ongoing work on culturally competent medical care.

Campus ethics programs have also expanded under Hanson’s leadership. An endowment from Mike and Joan Hackworth underwrites Hackworth Grants for faculty and student research on applied ethics and Hackworth Fellowships, which support undergraduate-led ethics programming.

The Center’s newest program area, Internet Ethics, launched in 2012 with gifts from Noel Perry and the Markkula Foundation. With a special focus on online privacy, the project also sponsors the High Tech Forum on IT, ethics, and law.

Throughout its history, the Center has retained its focus on the rigorous analysis of real-world ethical problems, the development of tools for addressing those problems, and the dissemination of those tools to the broadest possible audience.