A couple of months ago, Marc and I recorded a Legal Spirits episode in which we disagreed a bit about our role as law professors. I think it’s fair to say that Marc believes more than I do that law professors have an obligation to inculcate moral virtues in our students–or at least address moral virtues in our teaching expressly, as occasion allows. By contrast, although I don’t think we should be blind to moral concerns, I view my role in the classroom more as teaching a professional skill. Moral critique is incidental; for character formation, my students will mostly have to look elsewhere (which is no doubt a good thing!). Marc and I each have our reasons, which we explain in the podcast, and anyway we differ only in degree.
A new collection of essays from Pepperdine University Press on the work of the late James Q. Wilson, Character and the Future of the American University, addresses the issue of character formation and university teaching. The editor is scholar James R. Wilburn (also of Pepperdine). Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
One of the most influential social scientists of the past century, James Q. Wilson was best known for his “broken windows” theory of crime. But Wilson considered the study of moral character to be his true life’s work. In Character and the Future of the American University, thirteen eminent thinkers examine the growing significance of Wilson’s seminal work, The Moral Sense, through lenses ranging from political science and public policy to the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
Wilson believed that human beings’ innate moral sense holds profound promise for dispelling the darkness that threatens our democracy. Including essays by Wilson, his colleagues, and other distinguished scholars, this book expands on that idea, exploring how reintegrating discussions of morality and character into university curricula could help shape the next generation.
Today, America’s universities face historic challenges and critical decisions. The development of tomorrow’s public leadership—and the very survival of a free society—are at stake. Can a renewed emphasis on character offer the solution? More timely today than ever, Wilson’s thought-provoking message will challenge and inspire readers both inside and outside academia.