The School of Foreign Service and Ethics

By: Katherine Cienkus

April 18, 2016

At the founding of the School of Foreign Service Fr. Walsh stated, “Intellectual superiority involves service to humanity as surely as the juristic concept of 'right' connotes a corresponding 'duty' on the part of others to respect that right.” The School of Foreign Service was founded in 1919. It was the first school of its time, preceding even the United States Foreign Service. After World War I, there was a clear need for private and public officials who could speak languages, understand cultures and regions, and build bridges for the United States across an increasingly globalized world. It is not surprising that Georgetown and the Jesuits were the ones to institute such a school, even though the idea was discussed around at multiple higher education institutions.

From the start, the school has struggled with balancing the practical side of professional training with a liberal arts education and Jesuit values. Fr. Walsh himself had grandiose rhetoric for the school in its inception. However, on the ground the school was offering classes such as Steamship Accounting in order to train members of the merchant marine. This tension between Jesuit values and the vision of the school with practical and private interests is not a new development.

Nowadays, discussion of ethics and the overlap between policies and their acknowledgement of intercultural/faith effects are sectioned off to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Within the SFS, there is limited contact between Jesuits or other fellows at the Berkley Center. The discussions on moral and ethical implications of nuclear development of these parties are completely separate from that of an introductory international relations teacher or government employee. I believe that these interactions would produce fruitful dialogue and get students thinking critically about the issues in which they study. That spur to deeper analysis is not limited just to those who are “religious”; it is a quality we want to instill in all our students.

The School of Foreign Service is one of the most premier institutions for international relations in the world. However, I think our ethical concerns and Jesuit values are what often set is apart as a university, a resource that the SFS has not tapped to its full potential. In international relations classes, we lean Schelling’s ideas on brinkmanship and mutually assured destruction regarding nuclear weapons. In an Atomic History class, we learn the facts of blasts and atomic development. In a separate Berkley Center class on peacemaking, we discuss the ethics of nuclear development on all aspects: environment, population, and the process of peacemaking. All of this knowledge is relevant and salient. But I would have never learned to think ethically or critically about the theories or facts without this last class.

In our world today, we need leaders who have substantive and nuanced knowledge, but also a discerning mind to understand how their decisions affect others. In light of the tenth anniversary of the Berkley Center, I wish to applaud their progress and relevance. Clearly, students and faculty are interested in their work. The SFS has the unique ability to develop leaders with this mindset and has an existing framework in place within the university to reach this goal. Discussions on these matters can be incorporated into the curriculum and not pushed into the Berkley Center.

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The School of Foreign Service and Ethics