North Central's Leadership, Ethics & Values program focuses on moral courage

Apr 22, 2013

North Central College’s Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program is exploring the topic of moral courage in a yearlong focus that includes a visit by a prominent author, discussions and multimedia presentations.

Journalist Eyal Press, author of “Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times,” will visit North Central College’s campus on Wednesday, May 1, for a daylong series of events that will be the culmination of the LEV focus on moral courage. He will give a talk that is free and open to the public at 7 p.m. in the theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth St.

“When we talk about various motivations for what we do, we don’t talk enough about moral courage,” says Thomas D. Cavenagh, North Central College’s Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values. “This focus allows us to examine the merging of leadership, ethics and values and how they can effect social change and impact real people.”

“Beautiful Souls” examines stories of individuals who acted in morally courageous ways, such as a Swiss border guard who refused to enforce a law barring Jewish refugees from entering his country in the 1930s and a Serb in 1980’s Croatia who defied his superiors in order to save the lives of Croats.

Students in the LEV program and related groups—including members of North Central College’s chapter of the Blue Key Honor Society—will read the book and discuss it in groups throughout the year. The book explores what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention.

“Through the dramatic stories of unlikely resisters who feel the flicker of conscience when thrust into morally compromising situations, Eyal Press shows that the boldest acts of dissent are often carried out not by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but by true believers who cling with unusual fierceness to their convictions,” the book’s publisher says.

Press is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Nation and the Raritan Review. His other books include “Absolute Convictions,” a narrative account of the abortion conflict. He is a past recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.

Another story being explored is that of Karen Huff Klein, the subject of a YouTube video that went viral in June. Klein worked as a school bus monitor in upstate New York and the video showed her being bullied to tears by a group of middle-school passengers. No child intervened to stop the harassment of Klein.

“As parents, we have to ask how do we build a culture that values moral courage,” Cavenagh says.

Cavenagh also is director of the College’s Leadership, Ethics and Values program; professor of business law and conflict resolution; and coordinator of the master of leadership studies program. Leadership and conflict resolution are among more than 55 majors, minors and other areas of study offered at North Central College.