Marian University to establish ethics center with $9M in gifts

Marian University plans to establish an ethics center on its Indianapolis campus next year thanks to nearly $9 million in donations.

The majority of the money comes from Frank D. Walker, chairman emeritus of Walker Information and the Walker Family Foundation. Walker declined to disclose the exact amount of the gift. The center will be called the Walker Center for Applied Ethics.

The center's mission will be "to advance a more ethical world by improving and evolving the interdisciplinary teaching of ethics and by bridging the gap between research and organizational best practices." Areas of focus will include research, certificate programs for ethics professionals, and a nationally recognized speaker series.

Walker, now 83, became director of sales for Indianapolis customer research and consulting firm Walker Information in 1960, serving in a variety of roles for the firm that his mother, Dorothy “Tommie” Walker, founded in 1939. Walker became president in 1967 and chairman/CEO in 1982, before turning over day-to-day operations to his son Steve Walker in 1994. 

“I’ve always been very concerned with business ethics, which some people call an oxymoron,” Walker said. “It’s not an oxymoron. I was blessed with being taught that fairness, ethics and being responsible is pretty important. But I was in a position working in business that I could see how it could turn out to be a marketing advantage, too.”

In Walker’s prior consulting with companies, he said a common refrain is that companies believe “we’re ethical because we don’t break any laws.”

“Ethics is way beyond that,” he said, instead, calling it “obedience to the unenforceable.”

Walker told IBJ the center would seek to provide practical lessons for both Marian students and outside companies.

“We talked about having student teams being able to work with companies on auditing their ethical functions,” Walker said. “It would be helpful to businesses and our students.”

He also talked about working with businesses to certify their employees in ethical standards, and conducting national studies about ethics perceptions in business.

According to Marian, the center’s planning committee is evaluating certificate programs for ethics professionals that it could offer, with topics under consideration including anti-corruption, privacy, risk identification, and behavioral ethics.

Walker said the idea to establish an ethics center came about as he was doing estate planning. He contacted seven colleges and universities across the state and, after talking with Marian, “it became apparent that the institution has been committed to values and ethics since inception.”

The university offers a concentration in ethics, and has hosted the Central States Regional Ethics Bowl on its campus since 1999.

The university also received a gift from OneAmerica to have an endowed ethics chair, named for Jerry Semler, chairman emeritus for the Companies of OneAmerica.

Marian will now work to hire an executive director for the center. 

“We want to find someone who will not only serve as the face and voice of ethics on the Marian University campus, but will also represent Marian University at the state and national levels,” said Marian president Dan Elsener.

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