From 18th to 20th March, the Oxford Character Project joined with the Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University to co-host a major global conference on Character and the Professions.
This was the third conference we have hosted in partnership with Wake Forest (previous events focused on Cultivating Virtue in the University and the Arts of Leading) and it included a rich schedule of talks and discussions covering character in public life, medicine, business, law, religious life and engineering and technology. Keynote addresses were given by former US Secretaries of State, Madeleine K. Albright and the Hon. Colin L. Powell.
Ed Brooks from the Oxford Character Project hosted sessions on technology and business, both of which featured prominent guest speakers and panelists. Shannon Vallor, Professor and Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence, University of Edinburgh delivered the keynote on Character, Engineering and Technology, posing the question ‘Is virtue too much to ask?'. This session also benefited from the wisdom of Norman Fortenberry, executive direct at the American Society of Engineering Education, Doug Melton, Director at Kern and Deborah Johnson, Professor of Applied Ethics at the University of Virginia. With tech ethics much in the public eye, Prof Vallor raised the important question of whether social expectations of engineers and technologists to exercise more as well as technical expertise are fair since the techno-moral wisdom they need is far from what they have been trained for. Do we risk setting them up for failure and increasing present levels of distrust? Prof. Vallor drew out the origins and implications of the vicious cycle in which we find ourselves and offered some proposals for how we might break out of it, focusing on a needed expansion in the education and professional preparation of engineers. In the Character and Business session, the expert panel, chaired by Professor Michelle Roehm, Dean of Wake Forest School of Business, included Larry Culp, CEO at General Electric, Mary Gentile, Professor of Practice at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Sean Hannah Professor of Management at Wake Forest and Carolyn Woo, former CEO of Catholic Charities and former Dean of Notre Dame College of Business. Taya Cohen, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Theory at Carnegie Mellon University gave a fascinating presentation, sharing her research on correlations between character and performance in negotiation, work intensity and (negatively) counterproductive work behaviour.
The diversity of disciplinary perspectives and professional fields allowed space for the discussion of character in all different walks of life, something integral to the work of the Oxford Character Project, our associates and partners. All of the talks are online here