Open Letter to the Community

This fall, campus-wide conversations and concerns have arisen regarding the nature of the new Eudaimonia Institute, as well as its organization and proposed contribution to Wake Forest University. As members of the Institute’s Faculty Advisory Board, we take this opportunity to review the stated purpose of the program and offer an assessment of its potential for making a positive contribution to the University community and its educational mission.

The Eudaimonia Institute arose from over two years of thought and discussion, with dozens of colleagues, about how we could further Wake Forest’s educational and Pro Humanitate mission in a way that would cut across political and other differences that might otherwise divide us. We hit upon the study of eudaimonia—Aristotle’s word for “happiness” or “flourishing”—and thought that an interdisciplinary investigation of the nature of such a life, and of the various social institutions that encourage or hinder it, might not only constitute an important scholarly contribution in its own right but could also serve as a bridge between disciplines and perspectives that are often separated.

Our goal is to foster an open and critical dialogue among disciplines typically far away from each other, such as business, healthcare, science and technology, and all five divisions of the undergraduate College, seeking to involve the university community at large in open conversation about questions like: Can culture help us live well? What can traditional liberal arts disciplines working in tandem with professional and preprofessional programs tell us about eudaimonia and how to achieve it?

We aim to produce original scholarship that furthers our understanding of what eudaimonic life is and what the institutional requirements are for such a life. Our motivations are scholarly, not political. We thus welcome contributions from and collaboration with scholars from any disciplinary perspective, without regard for what political or partisan implications they might have. We intend to engage in and support scholarship that is rigorous and robust, capable of standing on the merits of its own argument and evidence. Our enterprise is scholarship, not activism or propaganda.

Reflecting this mission, the Eudaimonia Institute welcomes donor and other support from a wide range of perspectives, as long as that support does not interfere with or presume limitations on the nature, scope, or conclusions of our activities. This scholarly independence is so important to us that we have put it in writing: our “Declaration of Research Independence” is not only a nonnegotiable requirement of any donor support we would accept but also reflects our core commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry.

Our first major event will be our academic conference next April 20–22, 2017, focused, appropriately, on what eudaimonia is and how it might be assessed. We are pleased to report that we have received interest from philosophers, political scientists, economists, psychologists, and others. We cordially invite paper proposals from other disciplinary perspectives as well.

In addition to academic conferences like this one, we expect to host post-docs, visitors, speakers, and researchers from a wide range of disciplines. We welcome proposals from faculty in any department at Wake Forest for any of these. We also hope to support individual or team research projects, as well as proposals for workshops or colloquia on book manuscripts, research ideas or projects, or lecture series. We welcome inquiries or proposals from any discipline or perspective that connects with the study of eudaimonia.

Any proposals we receive will be reviewed by the Faculty Advisory Board of the Eudaimonia Institute, which is comprised of distinguished and diverse members drawn from across Wake Forest University. All research and other activities of the Eudaimonia Institute are similarly guided by the Board, which operates by consensus, under the review and authority of the relevant Deans and the Office of the Provost of the University.

As the Eudaimonia Institute has not yet sponsored any activities, it is disheartening that some of our colleagues have prejudged what we will do. We of course respect the right of every member of the Wake Forest community to come to conclusions different from those to which some of our research may come, but we respectfully ask that our work, like the work of all other members of the University community, be judged on its merits.

Wake Forest is, though perhaps small in number, big in its capacity to entertain and review ideas, arguments, and propositions from a wide array of perspectives. As President Hatch has written recently, “We are a community that profoundly values intellectual discourse and diverse viewpoints.” And, as Wake Forest’s statement on diversity holds,

We seek to cultivate an environment which fosters the inclusion and engagement of everyone, regardless of individual differences. Embracing diversity of thought will remain a priority in the strategic principles of the collegiate university, for doing so is instrumental to our University’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage. As a liberal arts institution, our purpose is to facilitate academic diversity by maintaining an atmosphere in which mutual respect and intellectual pluralism flourish. Moreover, understanding the importance of including different perspectives and experiences is a vital component of our motto, Pro Humanitate.

We believe the Eudaimonia Institute’s mission places it at the center of Wake Forest University’s Pro Humanitate mission, and intend to contribute what we can to the “rich mixture of intellectual approaches that enhances individual knowledge as well as the overall culture of our institution.” The Eudaimonia Institute belongs to Wake Forest University, and we pledge to steward its mission mindful of Wake Forest’s educational purpose. In the spirit of open inquiry and good-faith collegiality, we invite you to join us.

Respectfully submitted,

The Faculty Advisory Board of the Eudaimonia Institute
November 28, 2016

Derrick Boone
Dan Hammond
Benjamin Graves
Simeon Ilesanmi
Ana Iltis
Scott Klein
Bill Leonard
Roberta Morosini
Jim Otteson
Randall Rogan
Michael Sloan
Robert Whaples
Ya-wen Yang

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