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Center for Ethics director to step down, launch new Emory center for conflict management and peacebuilding
Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics

Paul Root Wolpe, longtime director of Emory University’s Center for Ethics, will step down May 31 in order to found a new center focused on conflict management, mediation and peacebuilding.

Envisioned in response to a rising “climate of conflict” within the U.S. and abroad, the new Emory center will bring together expertise and resources across Emory and the city of Atlanta to study effective approaches to peacebuilding and support productive dialogue about difficult subjects. Building upon Wolpe’s connections and deep experience as an ethicist and mediator, the center will reach across ideological lines and facilitate the work of Emory faculty, students and staff responding to upheavals domestically in politics, the corporate sector, organizations and communities — and the way they manifest in academia.

“As director of the Center for Ethics, Paul has profoundly impacted the way the Emory community and those beyond our campus understand and engage with ethical issues,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“In his new role, Paul will continue to guide Emory’s response to some of the most pressing issues of the day, and position Emory as a leading resource for dialogue, civil conversation and reconciliation,” says Bellamkonda. “I am grateful for his continued service, and I look forward to watching the center grow from an idea to a reality.”

Bellamkonda announced Wolpe’s plans to step down from the director role to the Center for Ethics community last fall. In addition, he announced the appointment of John Lysaker, William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy, as the center’s next director. Following a sabbatical this academic year, Lysaker will assume the directorship on June 1.

Wolpe, the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair of Jewish Bioethics and professor of medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, neuroscience and biological behavior and sociology, has served as the Center for Ethics director since 2008.

During his tenure, the Center for Ethics core faculty has grown from three to 10, with more than 50 additional affiliated faculty across Emory. The center has evolved into a crucial resource for the university, starting new programs such as Ethics and the Arts, which partners with art institutions to understand how art challenges perspectives, and Ethics and Servant Leadership, providing opportunities for students to engage with community organizations. Wolpe has also been instrumental in organizing highly visible events centered on ethics, including interviews with the Dalai Lama in 2013 and Ibram X. Kendi in 2020, both of which drew thousands of attendees.

The center’s renown has also grown through its Healthcare Ethics Consortium, which is nationally recognized for leadership in health care ethics education and consultative services for health systems, agencies and physicians.

“This is an extremely fertile time, and the center is doing really well. I’m very proud of what we've built,” Wolpe says. “I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues in the Center for Ethics and across Emory as we launch a new center focused on ethical, purposeful conflict mediation and coalition-building.”

Wolpe will bring the same dedication to innovation, partnership and the intellectual life of the community to his planned new center, which will advance scholarship on peacebuilding and provide students with the skills they need to have challenging conversations in their personal and professional lives.

“If we taught students better models for having tough conversations,” Wolpe says, “we would enrich our academic life as well as our interpersonal relationships. I’ve seen how difficult it is for people to really engage in conversations and truly listen to the other side instead of just waiting for the other side to finish so that they can say what they want to say.”

Fearless Dialogues, a nonprofit organization established by Candler School of Theology’s Gregory C. Ellison II, associate professor of transformative leadership and communal care, and Brokered Dialogue, a research method developed by James Lavery, professor of global health in Rollins School of Public Health, are both models of how to have tough conversations that Wolpe hopes to incorporate into the center’s offerings.

In addition to producing academic knowledge, the center will contribute to the community and Atlanta’s notable legacy of peacebuilding, which includes a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners with ties to the city: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; President Jimmy Carter, University Distinguished Professor at Emory; His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Emory Presidential Distinguished Professor; Bishop Demond Tutu, a visiting professor at Candler School of Theology who called Atlanta his “second home;” and Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Emory in 2012.

Atlanta is also home to many extraordinary organizations dedicated to fostering peace, including The Carter Center, Emory’s longtime partner. For more than 40 years, The Carter Center has collaborated with the university, faculty, students and alumni to advance President Carter’s goals of promoting peace, health and human rights globally. Other institutions in the city include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development at Kennesaw State University and the Healthcare Ethics Consortium.

By uniting Emory’s new center, community partners and the city’s academic institutions, Wolpe believes Atlanta could strengthen its leadership and service in conflict resolution. He’s already begun conversations with potential civic and academic partners as well as local leaders elected to all levels of government.

Over the next three years, Wolpe will establish the center’s infrastructure. He will spend the first year on sabbatical, researching best practices through visits to leading centers devoted to conflict mediation and peacebuilding and institutions in The Hague, Johannesburg, Geneva, Oslo and elsewhere to study and identify structures and philosophies that may inform the shape of Emory’s center.

Wolpe will also work to establish funding sources that will contribute to the success of the center. Later this spring, he will gather interested faculty and staff for further discussion of the work ahead.

For more information, please email Wolpe

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