The William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for Ethics
The Kenan Institute for Ethics started as the Kenan Program in Ethics in 1995 with generous support from the Kenan Fund for Ethics, a 501c3 created by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust as a vehicle for funding the study and teaching of ethics at Duke University. In 2000, after a five-year trial, the Kenan Charitable Trust made the decision to support this program in perpetuity with a $20 million endowment, leading to the formal creation of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. That endowment provides the Institute with more than 50% of its core funding, which comes in the form of an annual grant from the Kenan Fund for Ethics.
The agreement between the Kenan Fund for Ethics and Duke University that created the Institute stipulated that annual funding would be contingent upon Duke’s development of programs “in a manner consistent with the mission statement of the Fund.” That statement was created as part of the articles of incorporation for the Kenan Fund for Ethics in March 1995 and reads:
To encourage and support the study and teaching of ethics and thereby to educate individuals, and the public generally, in the personal attributes of integrity, honor, courage and compassion, among others, as exemplified in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in other great religions and teachings, as being fundamental to responsible, productive citizenship and personal behavior; to promote the concept that the well-being of society is served and improved when succeeding generations of citizens live and work by ethical and moral principles; to seek and support ideas and programs that strive to inculcate ethics and moral values in all aspects of corporate, political, governmental and cultural associations and activity, and in personal behavior; and to identify and advance those policies and practices through which the objectives of promoting ethical and moral values and otherwise enriching society may effectively be realized.
From the start, the Kenan Institute for Ethics has articulated its mission in various ways, and in its own words, but always as an interpretative exercise that seeks to clarify the broad charge of this 1995 document and to apply it to changing times. The most recent application of this statement is the Institute’s current focus on Good Pursuits.
Several aspects of the statement deserve clarification. The reference to “Judeo-Christian tradition,” for example, which serves as shorthand for the traditions of the West, is an unfortunate misnomer that collapses Judaism into Christianity and leaves out Islam altogether, as one of the three Abrahamic traditions. The document also speaks of educating individuals and the public in “personal attributes,” of inculcating “ethics and moral values,” and of promoting “ethical and moral principles,” with no attempt to define or to parse the differences between attributes and values and principles. You will find helpful background on this 1995 statement in the Institute’s origin story.