Clark Whittemore, Bernice Whittemore, Geoffrey Parkinson, UVa President John T. Casteen, Leland Selby, and Diane Selby.

The Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life was formally established at the University of Virginia in 2000. It origins can be traced to an informal Ethics Working Group that had emerged a few years earlier to facilitate discussion and collaborative activities among specialists in ethics across the grounds. Members of this group, which was chaired by James F. Childress of the Department of Religious Studies, participated in planning the university-wide conference "Beyond Green" in the Spring of 1997. And, although informal, the group was ready to respond when, in the fall of 1998, the Richard M. Donchian Foundation requested a proposal for a university-wide program in practical ethics that could serve as a model for other institutions around the country. The University of Virginia offers an ideal location for such a program because of the central role of its traditions, dating back to Thomas Jefferson, its honor system, and its major faculty resources in ethics in various fields.

James Childress, John "Al" Hollingsworth, Patsy Hollingsworth, and UVa President John T. Casteen

In response to the Working Group's proposal, the Donchian Foundation through trustees Geoffrey Parkinson, Leland Selby, and Clark Whittemore made a grant of $500,000 over a four-year period for various programs, including undergraduate internships in practical ethics and interdisciplinary courses in ethics. Under this generous grant, the Ethics Working Group moved to establish the Institute for Practical Ethics. Upon the strong recommendation of the Ethics Working Group, the University appointed Ruth Gaare Bernheim, then at Johns Hopkins University, as the first Executive Director of the Institute and formally established the Institute, November 17, 2000.

Additional financial support for the Institute has come from the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President and Provost, from other Donchian Foundation grants for specific programs and projects, from various other foundation grants for specific projects, and from a number of individual donors.

Noteworthy are the efforts of Mike Ross, an alumnus of the College and the Law School, who as a long-time friend of the Institute, has provided creative ideas, taught classes during his semi-annual visits, and offered guidance to the summer ethics interns, as well as making financial contributions and soliciting financial support from other alumni.

Mike Ross teaching business ethics.

Dana and Lynn

Dana Hollingsworth and Lynn Hobgood

Other significant support has come from Hollingsworth family, whose generosity has extended across the generations. Through a major gift, John Allen (“Al”) Hollingsworth, an alumnus of the college (class of 1951), endowed the "John Allen Hollingsworth Professorship of Ethics," and he and his wife Patricia (“Patsy”) provided additional support for programs. Their deaths in 2003, and 2005, meant the loss of two great friends of the Institute.

Their children, Dale Hollingsworth, Dana Hollingsworth, and Lynn Hobgood, have continued to support the Institute in memory of their parents. Their annual contributions support the Patricia Hollingsworth Prize in Ethics (for the best undergraduate essays in ethics), the annual Hollingsworth Lectures in Ethics, and, several summer ethics internships.

Administratively, the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life is located in the Office of the Vice President and Provost, but it works closely with UVA's various schools, which have representatives on the Institute's Faculty Advisory Committee, in order to facilitate interdisciplinary reflection in practical ethics.

The original title of the Institute for Practical Ethics was expanded after a couple of years to the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life to indicate the faculty's concentration on individuals' decisions in "public life," which includes professional roles and responsibilities, public policy, and organizational structures.