Campus & Community

Edmond J. Safra Foundation supports ethics education with gift of $10 million

4 min read

The University Center for Ethics and the Professions has received a gift of $10 million from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. The gift – initiated by Lily Safra, the widow of Edmond J. Safra – will support the core activities of the center, including faculty and graduate student fellowships, faculty and curricular development, and interfaculty collaboration. In recognition, the center will be renamed the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.

“We are pleased that the foundation recognized the significant contributions that our fellows and faculty are making to teaching and research in practical and professional ethics in this country and abroad,” said Dennis F. Thompson, Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and founding director of the Ethics Center. “Lily Safra’s encouragement was essential, and we are most grateful to her.”

Lily Safra has been a member of the Ethics Center Advisory Council for several years, and has participated in the center’s seminars and public programs.

“This generous gift will assist the Ethics Center in building on its early successes, encouraging younger scholars, inspiring new leaders of ethics in every profession, and strengthening cross-faculty collaboration at the University,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman, who oversees all of Harvard’s interfaculty academic programs. “It will ensure that moral reflection about public issues and professional life will always have a place in scholarship and teaching at Harvard.”

Founded in 1986, the center encourages teaching and research about ethical issues in public and professional life, and anchors what is now a well-established movement at Harvard to prominently highlight ethics in the curriculum and research agenda. The center helps to meet the growing need for teachers and scholars who address ethical questions in such fields as business, education, government, law, medicine, public policy, and social science. More than 180 fellows from colleges and universities in the United States and 35 countries worldwide have studied at the center. Many have returned to their home institutions to start their own programs of ethical study.

The history of the foundation’s generosity to Harvard has deep roots. Previous gifts from Edmond J. Safra supported the Robert F. Kennedy Professorship in Latin American Studies at the Kennedy School, and gifts from the foundation endowed the Edmond J. Safra Graduate Fellowships in Ethics, which are open to Harvard students who are working on ethics-related issues in their dissertations.

“There is so much in our world that is changing and evolving, and as a result, there is a great need to synthesize theoretical ethical understanding and practical wisdom,” said Lily Safra. “I am fascinated by the issues the fellows examine, ranging from questions about social disadvantage, international security, religion in society, and privacy, to the nuances of the ways our societies should best be structured. In taking timeless concepts and applying them to present-day situations, the fellows stand to have a profound impact on society.”

Thompson added, “It is gratifying to receive a gift from someone who knows us so well, and has herself followed and appreciated the work of our fellows. An unrestricted gift of this magnitude to support the core activities of our ongoing programs is especially welcome. The faculty, fellows, and students who will benefit from this extraordinary gift will be better able to pursue the ideals of moral leadership and public service in their teaching and research in the years to come.”

The foundation, created and endowed by Edmond J. Safra, supports medical research, arts, culture, education, religion, health care, and historic preservation. Among the many institutions to which the foundation has given named gifts are the Family Lodge at the National Institutes of Health, a professorship at the National Gallery of Art, the Lecture Theater at Oxford University, a campus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Fountain Court at Somerset House in London.