George Mason Law School

Powell returns for annual ethics week

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November 6, 2009

3:02 AM

Michael Powell ’85, former rector of the College of William and Mary’s Board of Visitors, returned to campus to give a presentation about the importance of community values Tuesday. The presentation was part of the Honor Council’s Ethics Week.

“Sometimes we talk about ethics as this clean little thing,” Powell said. “It’s not. It’s painful. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with.”

As a graduate of the College, Powell said he knows of the challenges that conflict with the College’s strict Honor Code policy, yet he is proud to be a part of such a legacy since graduating in 1985.

“William and Mary is a culture that remains unflinchingly dedicated to the Honor Code 25 years later,” he said.

However, collegiate codes are only the beginning of ethical challenges that many will face. Life, Powell promised, is full of events that will demand us to either forsake or affirm our values.

In such situations, he said we must know to what morals we are personally committed.

Powell challenged each audience member to think of 10 things he or she would not compromise for anyone, including family and friends, and then dared those in attendance to test the way in which they live their ethics each day.

“Do you have anything you believe so passionately that you would die for it?” he asked. “Does your calendar reflect these priorities? What would your peers say about you or your values?”

Powell also pointed out that while sometimes students should weigh what others would think when making decisions, there are some circumstances in which ethical choices should be made independent of other people.

“Ethics are a personal decision, and for them to be influenced by someone else takes away from the value of individuality regarding ethics,” he said. “Personal ethics should be questioned every day of our lives.”

Powell also discussed ethics in the context of many current political, economic and environmental problems.

“A commitment to a life of integrity and honor is critical in looking at the problems of the world,” Powell said.

Students in attendance responded favorably to the former BOV rector’s presentation.

“Honestly, I think every student here should have heard this,” Carolyn Sloan ’12 said. “It’s a very good explanation of what the Honor Code is, practically speaking.”

Other Ethics Week events included a lecture by David Callahan, author of “Cheating Culture,” and an Honor Council Mock Trial with College President Taylor Reveley.

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