• Character Clearinghouse photo

Arthur Schwartz, United States Air Force Academy

2011 Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values Panelist


Prior to joining the Academy faculty and staff, Schwartz served fourteen years as a senior executive with the John Templeton Foundation. Most recently he served as the Foundation’s first executive vice president (2004-2009), where his responsibilities ranged from operational leadership to overseeing strategic planning and developing new research initiatives. Schwartz has focused his research on adolescent moral and spiritual development.

Professional Title: Senior Scholar, United States Air Force Academy


What is the purpose of the USAFA Center for Character and Leadership Development (CCLD)?

CCLD was established to be a visible manifestation of USAFA’s commitment to character and leadership development. The mission of the Center is to advance the understanding, practice, and integration of character and leadership development, both at the Academy, throughout the Air Force, and to the nation at large.

Will you provide a brief history of CCLD?

The Center has been an active entity at the Air Force for over 20 years. Initially, it convened the National Character and Leadership Symposium and more recently it leads one-day small-size seminars for cadets (by class) on a theme related to character and leadership (such as what does it mean to be a “servant leader”).  In 2009, the Center was re-chartered to become a “first call” organization for the Air Force, dedicated to developing an integrated curriculum and course of instruction across all USAFA mission elements (intellectual, professional, physical, ethical, spiritual, social). The Air Force has committed $30 million for a new building that will be the visible manifestation that CCLD will extend beyond its past focus and pioneer new theories and practices related to the integration of character and leadership. The Center is led by a permanent professor, Colonel Joseph Sanders III; this designation helps to orient the Center as an academic enterprise, in a way similar to the History or Physics Department.

What are your responsibilities as Senior Scholar at CCLD?

I am currently charged with helping the Center develop an institutional “theory of program” Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE —a conceptual framework for character and leadership development. The expectation is that this framework will serve as a conceptual vector for all programmatic design and integration, across the Academy and eventually throughout the entire Air Force. In short, the framework should offer USAFA the “conceptual anchors” for how the institution develops what we call “leaders of character.” I also teach two courses—a required course on leadership and a required course on the philosophy of ethics. Finally, I meet on a consistent basis with the three generals on base, which I should add is my favorite responsibility.

How has your background as Executive Vice President at the John Templeton Foundation prepared you for your work at USAFA?I served at the Foundation for almost 15 years?

It was my honor during that time to identify and support character development programming at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. For example, ten years ago Jon Dalton and I co-developed a guidebook titled Colleges that Encourage Character Development; more recently, the Foundation funded the UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute research program on spiritual growth during the college years. Finally, so much of what we call “character” focuses on the virtues, such as honesty, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, etc. It has been my honor while at Templeton to fund research into the nature and efficacy of these virtues (among others).

Can you tell us more about the upcoming National Character and Leadership Symposium?      

It is an amazing two-day event. Planning for the symposium is year-round. I attended the symposium eleven years ago and back then only a few cadets attended. Today, the Academy cancels classes for two full days so cadets can attend the symposium. Cadets are also very involved in organizing the symposium—it has truly evolved into a leadership opportunity for our cadets. To me, the symposium is about inspiration. Each presenter describes their noble purpose with such passion. The title for this year’s symposium is Strength Within-Leadership Throughout, and so I expect that so many of the presenters will vivify their “inner strength” as well as their ability to lead. To me, the entire two days is a bouquet to our capacity to find and act upon our “noble purpose.” For example, many cadets still talk about the talk that Greg Mortensen gave (he wrote Three Cups of Tea and works tirelessly to start schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan).

How does USAFA define character?

In the conceptual framework that I am helping to develop for USAFA, we define a leader of character as someone who is striving to: (1) live honorably; (2) Develop in oneself and others competence, confidence and commitment; and, (3) Inspire others to make a real difference. Of course, the “live honorably’ section speaks to the honor code that underpins so much of the Academy’s emphasis on character development and ethical behavior.

What types of courses did you take at Harvard?

My focus was on adolescent moral identity, so I am well-trained in developmental theory, especially Kohlberg. Of course, I was greatly influenced by Carol Gilligan and her perspective that girls reason (morally) in “a different voice.”  In addition, I was interested not just in theory or empirical research, but application as well. In yesteryear we called this “moral education.”

Do you recommend that moral education studies be a part of all degree programs in education?

I am an Aristotelian so I’m not sure one class is sufficient. That is why I have been studying the honor code at the Academy; honor is part of the “air” the cadets breathe. What we now call the “ethos” of the community. I do think that every college graduate should be able to demonstrate the four components of ethical behavior: awareness, reasoning, deciding, and acting. Of course, it is also important for a college graduate to understand and grasp what is called the “Decision-Action Gap.” Too often, I “know” (by my reasoning ability) what I should do but I don’t do it. There are reasons for this (time pressure, peer pressure, etc.) and to me it’s so important for a college student to wrestle with understanding this gap and how it affects them. By the way, it is my perspective that having a “commitment” —to family, God, nation, health, the environment, etc.—is what provides the motivational force to push through and “do the right thing.”

Would you please summarize what information and insights you will be talking about in your panel discussion at the Institute that will be useful for Institute participants.

In the short time I have, I will: (1) define the term “leader of character”; (2) describe the capacities that leaders of character demonstrate (awareness, reasoning, deciding and acting); (3) explain the model by which the Academy develops in cadets those capacities; and, (4) focus on the institutional mechanisms that need to be in place to foster development (such as aligned assessments, rewards systems, etc.).

What advice do you have for students today in searching for meaning and fulfillment in their lives?

I have two children—age 22 and 17. My wife and I have tried our best to practice the virtues we think are important—especially gratitude. But we have tried even more intentionally to encourage our kids to find their passion. It is hard for me to understand how someone can be “fulfilled” without tapping into their passion, or what I call one’s “noble purpose.” My older son is a filmmaker in L.A. He left USC because he had a “hunger” to make films, rather than study biology or philosophy. My younger son is a composer; he finds his “flow” when he’s at the piano composing or playing guitar in one of his two bands. Passion is not limited to the arts. Finding our noble purpose comes in many different sizes and shapes. My friend Bill Damon wrote a wonderful book about this search, titled The Path to Purpose: Helping Children find the Calling in Life.

What advice do you have for faculty and student affairs administrators in helping to guide students to pursue meaning in their lives?

Part of the conceptual framework I’ve helped to develop for the Academy focuses on this precise question. I’d suggest that they assess each student they work with to understand more about the strengths of the student, especially the students’ signature strengths. Next they have to find a way tochallenge each student, in ways that expand current capacities and perspectives. Finally, they have tosupport each student. Assess, Challenge, Support.  Again and again.