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Character Clearinghouse

Florida State University

Edward Queen, Sources of Enlightenment: Faculty and Administrators Who Challenge and Inspire Their Students

“The best thing I can do for them [students] is to model a radically different way of being in the world, while simultaneously demonstrating a real concern for them and their lives.”

Dr.QueenEdward L. Queen

Director, Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership
Center for Ethics

Co-Chair, Faculty member
Department of Religion

Emory University


Interviewed by Pamela Crosby, Character Clearinghouse Editor

Describe briefly the history of the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program (EASL) in the Center for Ethics at Emory and how you became involved as director.

The EASL Program began around 1999 when William Turner of Columbus, Georgia, and Chairman of the Turner-Bradley Companies decided to make a series of gifts to several colleges and universities in the state designed to further the teaching and training in Servant Leadership. The programs designed by the different schools varied widely. Here at the Center for Ethics, the decision was to focus on co-curricular programs once during the academic year and the other during the summer.

I joined the Center for Ethics in the summer of 2003. I was just completing a Ford Foundation funded research project and was looking for a position that would enable me to continue to engage students in community work and service and still have a classroom component. The Center desired to expand the program and to increase its visibility and was looking for a more senior person to do that. As luck would have it, we both needed what the other was offering.

What attracts students to your program and how do they learn about it?

As one might suspect, students come into the programs from various directions. Some students apply to the program because they have a relationship with me that they developed from being in one of my classes. Others learn about it and are attracted to it because they have heard the roommates or friends talk about their experiences. Still others hear about the program from professors or administrators. We do a fair amount of advertising on-line, but unfortunately, we are in a position where we have to constrain our advertising simply because we lack the capacity to handle many more applications than we already receive. We get about 250 or so applications for 25-30 positions. That is a lot of paper for my assistant, Chantel Smith, to manage even with our help and for my associate director, Carlton Mackey, and me to review.

What attracts the students to the program? Again, it varies. For both programs, the Forum and the summer internship program, many students apply because of the relationships they have developed with my associate director or me. Others because of the stories they have heard. For the Forum still others apply because they are looking for an open and supportive environment to discuss and engage with pressing social and political issues. Additional reasons people apply to the summer internship program include the chance to work with some pretty major organizations—CARE, CDC, the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Opera, the ADL—or with an organization whose mission already is near to a student’s heart—whether it is homelessness, refugees, or the environment. And, if I am being honest, I probably have to acknowledge that students are attracted to the internship program because of the $4000.00 stipend.

Some critics, such as Stanley Fish (2008), argue that college students should stick to work that relates only to their academic education. In other words, it is not the business of higher education, at least public universities, to strive to teach students to be good global citizens, virtuous people, or caring souls. How would you respond to these comments?

In many ways, I do not necessarily disagree with Stanley Fish, I do think there are some ways that expectations of what students should be doing with their time can distort the education process. This is particularly true for high school students and what colleges increasingly are looking for in college applicants.

That said, I disagree with Stanley Fish because at some point his vision of higher education and mine diverge greatly. For me, education is about the formation of a person, the making a human being. It is a very antiquated and old-fashioned view of education, I know, but there it is. So, for me, just as the concerts, plays, and speakers one has access to in college are as central to one’s education as one’s coursework, so too are appropriately structured engagements with socio-political realities, with human pain and suffering, with our shared lives together as human beings. Just as Socrates, the peripatetics, and the Stoics saw philosophy as central to teaching people how to live, that is how I see higher education. And one cannot do that without bringing students to an engaged and reflective interaction with what is happening in the world.

You say that it is possible to “mold ethical adults” in response to philosopher John Stuhr’s skepticism about how much influence a university can have on students’ ethical decision-making (Ethics Ed). Explain how you think a university can go about influencing students’ moral development.

As Watergate unfolded, it became known that William Sloane Coffin, a chaplain at Yale, had closely mentored Jeb Magruder, one of the men at the center of the scandal, and who had also taken an ethics class in his senior year taught by Coffin. The fact that one of President Richard Nixon’s scandal-ridden inner circle had been an ethics student of one the president’s most outspoken critics provided a field day for the press. When responding to reporters asking how Magruder had done in his class, Coffin explained in a New York Times op-ed piece that evidently Magruder had failed (Coffin, 1973). While I believe that higher education has a role to play in molding ethical adults, conscientious citizens, and informed voters, higher education cannot do everything. It always is pushing against countervailing currents. And in fact, often is pushing against currents within its own schools and programs themselves, particularly the professional schools—business, law, and medicine—which implicitly, if not directly, encourages a culture of narcissism that drives much of the most egregious ethical violations we find in the business, medical, legal, and political worlds today.

While much of my answer to this question has been covered in the Stanley Fish question, one other element I would add is that adults conform to their moral environment. Moral schools help to form moral individuals. Having attended a college with a strong honor code, I can attest to that fact. My students today cannot believe that I went through my entire college career and only had one class where a faculty member stayed in the classroom during our exams. Other than that one class, our exams were never proctored by anyone.

As I stated earlier, it is all about helping students learn how to live. You model it, demonstrate it, and teach it. Preeminently you constantly have to help them come to understand that the true measures of human value and success cannot be monetized. This is countercultural, and it always has been countercultural. William James writing to H. G. Wells in 1906 identified it perfectly, “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That—with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease” (James, 1920, p. 260). Beyond everything else, my goal is to attack the source of that moral flabbiness.

As a college professor and center director, one might say that the primary focus of your occupation is to educate students. After all it is a university! How do you see the focus of your director’s role at Emory: is it on (a) students whom you are helping to educate in your discipline and guide as ethicalservant leaders who further social justice, or is it primarily on (b) those in the community and societywho are served by those students? Or both? Does one goal ever come in conflict or overshadow the other? Please elaborate (This question relates to the next question).

First, social justice is a phrase I try to avoid. While the term has a strong intellectual history and, when used by some people, a significant conceptual basis, in many ways it currently has become a term that forecloses thought and conversation. Those opposed to what you are doing become proponents of injustice, those with whom one no longer is required to engage intellectually or with an argument. They are the children of darkness with all of the connotations that comes with that designation. To me, therefore, the phrase simply becomes alienating and obfuscating and I do not use it.

Second, anyone who sees a and b as inherently antagonistic has the wrong approach. Certainly, as part of a university, I have a preeminent duty to the mission of the institution and to its core stakeholders, the students. I, however, have an equal moral imperative not to make other people or institutions merely instrumental to my purposes. If I cannot create a situation where everyone gains from the relationship, then I have failed.

Finally, making this point clear to students becomes part of their moral education. I begin by emphasizing to the students that they are a cost to the organization. The organizations are doing them a favor by accepting them as interns or agreeing to partner with them on projects. The students, therefore, have a duty to try to ensure that what they provide is at least equal to the cost.

Jean Twenge (2006; 2009) suggested that the increase in volunteering among young people today may be due to the perceived advantages they see for themselves such as enhancing their résumé and attracting praise. Should colleges and universities avoid focusing too much on the student and more on those they serve in civic engagement and service-learning programs? Please explain.

Again, I have a difficult time seeing these as separate. I have a role responsibility and a moral responsibility to my students. I also have a moral responsibility to my community partners and a particular moral responsibility to the vulnerable populations with which many of them work. If I cannot do my work without violating one of those responsibilities, then I need to withdraw from the partnership, pull the student from the organization, or respond in some appropriate manner.

I do concur with the underlying assumption in Jean Twenge’s position, namely that too often colleges and universities (and even individual faculty members) undertake service/engaged learning programs with the view that the community partner is a mere instrumentality to the course, the program, the research activity or whatever. Such behavior means that they could not pass the first hurdle of doing service-learning, namely dealing with the question, “Who asked you to show up?”

Describe briefly the Forum as a program in EASL. What makes this program different from other forums? How has this initiative helped to advance the exchange of ideas among differing perspectives and attitudes?

A weekly, interdisciplinary forum focused on service, community building, and leadership development. The Forum brings together 15 undergraduate and graduate students, selected through an application process, in a year-long collaborative learning experience that includes retreats, skill-building sessions, outside speakers, and student-developed projects.

The Forum’s distinctiveness emerges from its structured and ongoing nature as well as the addition of the projects that the students undertake to plan, development, and implement. Additionally, the breadth of perspectives plays a major role in its success, particularly when you bring together a group of students who are willing to be challenged by different perspectives. When that happens, true engagement and learning happen.

Describe briefly the Summer Internship Program. What are some of the greatest obstacles you have experienced in organizing and implementing the Summer Internship Program and how have you worked to solve them?

The Servant Leadership Summer is a funded summer internship program that places qualified Emory University students in Atlanta-area nonprofits, government agencies, and socially responsible businesses. The Servant Leadership Summer internship program is designed to enrich the student’s life and integrate the practical, intellectual, and spiritual components of work, while deepening understandings of responsibility, service, and vocation.

The Summer Program includes an orientation, weekly class sessions, projects, and a minimum of 240 hours of work at your placement site. Students receive a $4000 stipend.

Honestly, the greatest obstacle is finding the funding for the stipends. The program has roughly tripled in size during my ten years as director, and I have increased the size of the stipend. I remain committed to the program being paid. There are serious equity issues with unpaid internships. As Cokie Roberts stated in testimony before Congress, which was quoted in the New York Times “[U]npaid internship programs . . . [set] up a system where you are making it ever more difficult for people who don’t have economic advantages to catch up” (Lee, 2004, p. 1). The demand is there. I receive around 250 applications and intentionally limit my advertising, so I could be receiving far more. Of those applicants, easily half are more than qualified for the program. I spend more time seeking funding than I thought I would when I took the position. Fortunately, several of the organizations provide some partial funding for the stipend. Our partnership with Emory’s Center for Community Partnerships has led to support for five-six students working with community environmental groups. That funding comes from the Coca Cola Foundation. And the Belk Company has proven to be a generous and engaged funder over the past couple of years, as well as being a great booster for the program. So as much as I hate to say it, money remains the biggest challenge.

As a professor of religion, you have researched and taught about different religious worldviews. There is a certain paradox about inclusive worldviews: for example, some campus leaders and students might say that pluralism is only one interpretation of religion or worldview, and beinginclusive is actually having an exclusive worldview in that pluralism by its very definition excludes non-pluralistic views. How would you address a group of students and community members who might bring up this paradox?

This is a great question, in fact I have loved most of these questions because they have allowed me to discuss some of the most important issues I face, but they are the questions I rarely get asked.

Raymond Geuss in his book, The Idea of a Critical Theory (1981) says that any true utopia must include those who oppose it. So in some form, pluralism must include anti-pluralists. Most importantly, however, I think we need to clarify what is meant by pluralism. By that term, I do not believe that everything is equally valid, good, or true. Some things are evil, wretched, beastly, and immoral. For me pluralism is more about a quest for the true and the good. It assumes that there is a great deal of goods in this world and that no one way of being in the world necessarily can accommodate all of them. Just a quick example, one cannot have both absolute freedom and absolute security. Both of these are goods. My version of pluralism would say that there is a continuum along which societies, in this case, could be arranged emphasizing varying degrees of the mix of the two and still be “morally acceptable.” It also would say that at some point along the continuum, in either direction, you would reach a limit beyond which the structure of the social organization would be morally evil.

In the study of religion, something similar is going on. I start with the assumption that there is something transcendent, that we can denominate the divine and that all religious traditions attempt to apprehend and venerate. Some ways of doing this are better than others. (I would argue that human sacrifice is a not so good and even wrong way to do so.) Good ways of realizing those goals are then transferable from one tradition to another. This is the point of natural theology. There is a traditional hermeneutic, which one could see in the Scholastic tradition, but preeminently so in Maimonides that starts with the view that anything good or true is from the Divine. It, therefore, is irrelevant who discovers it, speaks it, writes it. Truth is truth and should be recognized as such regardless of its source.

That returns me to my view of pluralism as a quest for the good, it sends one on a search for those truths no matter where they may reside or whence they come.

What is your favorite EASL story—or one of your favorites?

It is less a story, although I have lots of them, but was more a student comment. The student was in both of the programs and in discussing the experience with someone, she made the following comment. “Dr. Queen’s . . . teaching style is unlike any I have encountered before. He has an in your face kind of way of speaking, but you know he is challenging everything you believed in a way that is not offensive, but makes you want to rise to the challenge and prove him wrong . . . . ”

This was a student who got it. She was engaged, passionate, and aware. She knew, or learned, that ideas matter and that you have to engage with them. One cannot sit back and let them wash over one. Ideas, competing claims, arguments have to be met with competing arguments. This student cared enough to be challenged and to respond and was thoughtful and reflective enough to know that those responses had to be about proving, demonstrating, and articulating a different position. It was about argument in the truest Habermasian fashion.

You have an impressive CV! How do you connect your background and experience in religion, law, ethics, and social justice?

You are too kind. Accepting my caveat regarding social justice mentioned above, my most basic answer is my conviction that one has a duty to put one’s knowledge into service, to use it. In the course of my varied career, I have had the opportunity to develop certain skills and knowledge. To the extent that they have any value at all, I feel obligated to use them for the benefit of my students, my institution, and the wider world.

Additionally, the ability to demonstrate how one’s knowledge can be put to use in professional situation or to use a personal experience to illuminate a lecture point strengthens a student’s education. If one can talk about the reality of human trafficking from one’s experience working in the Balkans supervising students who were working to combat trafficking among Albania gangs or seeing entire cemeteries in Bosnia where everyone died in the same year, it makes the lessons real. Similarly, one’s examples of working internationally or doing trainings across cultures give one both credibility and ways to show students what may happen and what they might experience.

Finally, there remains the meta-answer to the question. At heart I remain a man of the 18th century. The divisions of disciplines and specialization that were a feature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries do not exist in my conceptual universe. All knowledge is of a piece to me and I use it and teach it that way.

You do quite a bit of writing and speaking in public media (newspapers, television, and internet). I once knew a faculty member who advised her budding young colleague to delay speaking at public events on social justice; now, she cautioned him, he needed to concentrate on scholarly research in order to earn a tenure appointment. Why do you devote so much of your effort to speaking and writing in the public square—when often such efforts might be discouraged in academe? How do such ventures into popular culture relate to the concept of servant leader?

This is a most important question, and I leave it to others to determine how to answer it for themselves and for how they construct their professional lives. For me, I was fortunate enough to have mentors who never saw a conflict between these. My Ph.D. advisor co-edited a leading popular magazine on religion, for which he wrote a weekly column and several unsigned editorials. He also edited a monthly news digest directed to pulpit ministers and rabbis. Additionally, he spoke regularly to the media on issues of religion. It always was assumed that being a public intellectual, including being a public teacher, was part of one’s role. That is what I am, I am a teacher, and my classroom may be in a university, a newspaper, or a Kiwanis Club.

Regarding the issue of servant leadership and being a public teacher, I am convinced they mesh smoothly. If servant leadership preeminently is a leadership model that rejects self-aggrandizement as a legitimate role of a leader and emphasizes service to others, then being a public intellectual is a duty. You do not use your knowledge solely, or even primarily, to drive your career. You use it in the service of others.

College peer culture can have both positive and negative influences on students’ personal, social, and academic life. How might the Center for Ethics at Emory moderate the negative influences of peer culture on college students?

The biggest role that the Center for Ethics plays on a daily basis is that it provides a place for students who care about ethical, social, and political issues to meet and engage with other students concerned about the same questions. It tells those students that they are not alone. It gives them a space and a community. Merely by providing alternatives to some of the more negative aspects of college peer culture, it serves as a moderating influence.

In college life today students are encouraged to join many activities and options at a time of considerable personal freedom. Do you think that a college can encourage students too much to be involved in co-curricular activities? Why or why not? Do you think there should be more efforts in connecting student activities to their academic experiences? Why or why not?

The short answer to the first question is, yes. Students can become too involved in co-curricular activities to the detriment of the coursework. A great deal of this is exacerbated and furthered by a perceived need to pad resumes for medical school and law school applications, etc. Please note, however, that I did not say to the detriment of their education. Ideally co-curricular activities—service, political, artistic, and cultural—should be understood as a part of the educational process. For students to grasp this and to understand it, they must be guided in that direction. There need to be both formal and informal mechanisms that help them integrate the curricular and co-curricular.

Many of your students have come from various countries and cultures. What are some of the ways that you may have encouraged students to maintain their distinctiveness and pride in their own cultures while learning about other cultures, relating to others, respecting difference, and sharing in a diverse community?

Curiosity, support, and interest. Students have lives, families, histories. International students (and even students of immigrants) often find themselves in situations where people ignore their backgrounds. I think much of this comes from people trying to avoid being offensive. My experience is that students want to talk, want to discuss their lives, and even simply want someone to think that those lives are valuable. Asking an informed question, maybe acknowledging a holiday, or even a few words in a student’s language can make a big difference. You become a different person to the students. And know that it is not only about nationality and ethnicity, my Ismaili (Muslim) students are overjoyed that I even know about Ismailis. It makes them feel valued. It usually is a relief to students to have someone recognize them and their cultures. It also gives you as a teacher an opportunity to make connections, to use them as sources of knowledge and information in class.

Again, like everything, one has to be prudential about this. One has to read students and one has to be aware of when one might be treading on sensitive ground. Overall, however, I remain convinced that people appreciate being noticed, being known.

My best story about that does not involve a college student, but a cab driver. I always ask them where they are from, how business is, etc. This one particular driver was from Pakistan. And he asked, as they always do, whether I had been to Pakistan. I said yes and we talked about that, and then we got to talking about Pakistani politics and Benazir Bhutto (this was before her assassination) and his brother was an activist in her party, and we went on. When I reached my destination, he refused to take my money (and it was a $15.00 or so fare). He said it was just so meaningful to speak with someone who knew something about Pakistan that it was worth more than the fare.

That to me sums it all up. Any time you can make someone and someone’s life seem meaningful and worthwhile, then you have done something of infinite value.

You oversee—as well as participate in—many kinds of events with students. How do such interactions with students influence your attitudes on their needs and interests?

My biggest concern is that an overwhelming number of college students arrive on campus with this peculiar mixture of having led lives overly-structured and constructed by adults yet without ever having had any regular and on-going interactions with adults who acted like adults. Part of what they need is the modeling of different ways of being in the world. They need to see adult behavior, strengthen their understanding of boundaries, and encounter an individual whose focus is not popular culture, and is comfortable with that. It may strike many as offensive, but to a great extent my interactions with students on a regular and intense basis have convinced me that the best thing I can do for them is to model a radically different way of being in the world, while simultaneously demonstrating a real concern for them and their lives.

Did your experience as an undergraduate at Birmingham-Southern influence your interest in social justice at all? If so in what ways?

Disregarding, again, the social justice language, my experiences at Birmingham-Southern influenced and affected everything I do and the ways I try to do it. Preeminently and far above everything else, my professors there, particularly Natalie Davis, Irvin Penfield, Susan Hagen, Paul Franke, Earl Gossett, and Roy Wells, as well several others, demonstrated to me what it truly meant to be a teacher. They were (and are) the models for what I strive to be in my daily work. They took a bright, passionate, and widely-read but undisciplined, unsophisticated, and quite sheltered seventeen year-old and transformed him. They saw both my possibilities and my weaknesses, and by their rigorous and compassionate training they made possible any successes I have had in my life. They made it a point to engage with me both personally and intellectually. They challenged, they listened, they responded, and they pushed. They encouraged my political engagement and my intellectual development. But most importantly they cared and they believed. The professors combined with my closest friends at ‘Southern with whom I spent hours debating politics, philosophy, theology, and social analysis, not to mention the hours of editing the newspaper and supporting political causes are the source of my current self.

Other Responsibilities

Director, Undergraduate Programming
Institute of Human Rights
Director of Research
Initiative on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding
Graduate Department of Religion
Islamic Civilizations
Tam Institute of Jewish Studies



Fish, S. (2004). Save the world on your own time. New York NY: Oxford University Press.

Coffin, W. S. (1973, June 19). Not yet a good man. New York Times. Retrieved from

Geuss, R. (1981) The idea of a critical theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

James, W. (1920) Letter to H. G. Wells. In H. James (Ed.), The letters of William James (Vol.2). Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press. (Original letter September 11, 1906)

Lee, J. (2004). Crucial unpaid internships increasingly separate the haves from the have-nots. New York Times. Retrieved from

Twenge, J.M (2006). Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled–and more miserable than ever before. New York, NY: Free Press.

Twenge, J.M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

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