Public Scholar Lecture

From the center's earliest years, we have showcased the university's most exciting scholars in our Public Scholar lecture series. Many of the Public Scholar lectures have been published (in slightly revised form) as Occasional Papers of the Center.


The Maguire Ethics Center is proud to announce Mark A. Roglán Director of the Custard Institute for Spanish Art and Culture P. Gregory Warden, Ph.D., will give the 2023 Maguire Public Scholar Lecture. 

Register Here

Recent Public Scholar Lectures

November 17, 2021

Alida LibermanAlida Liberman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy

Are Vaccine Mandates a Matter of Conscience?


Dr. Liberman's lecture addressed whether exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates (e.g., from an employer or university) should be accommodated as conscientious objections, understood as penalty-free exemptions to a law or policy based on moral or religious disagreement with the policy. Liberman developed a framework for assessing the legitimacy of conscientious objection claims by determining whether they violate the basic competencies needed to be a minimally decent member of a profession or community. In the case of vaccine mandates, these include epistemic competencies (such as avoiding relying on factual misunderstandings when making community-impacting decisions), relational competencies (such as avoiding free-riding and refraining from harming others in the exercise of your liberties), and normative competencies (which require having an accurate understanding of what you are responsible for and how your actions affect others). Liberman argued many vaccine refusals violate one or more of these competencies, and accordingly should not be permitted as a matter of conscientious objection.


Watch the full video 

February 4, 2020

Meredith RichardsMeredith Richards, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education Policy and Leadership

Great Equalizer: Education Policy, Geography and Equality of Opportunity


Dr. Richards is an Assistant Professor of Education Policy and Leadership in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy from the University of Texas at Austin and was an IES Post-doctoral Fellow in Education Policy and Methods at the University of Pennsylvania. At SMU, she is responsible for teaching doctoral coursework in educational research methods. 

Dr. Richards’ research seeks to understand the underlying causes of educational inequities and explore the effects of a wide range of educational policies—such as school choice, accountability, and student assignment policies—on equity and stratification in schools. In particular, her work situates policies in their metropolitan and geographic contexts, focusing on the role that educational boundaries play in facilitating social stratification and segregation. In addressing these substantive issues, she seeks to develop and apply diverse quantitative methods to the study of education. Beyond documenting the consequences of educational policies, Dr. Richards seeks to provide actionable research that helps policymakers design effective policies, particularly those that balance the imperative for equity in schools with other educational demands.


February 7, 2018

Theo Walker Jr.Theo Walker, Jr., Associate Professor of Ethics and Society

Don’t Call King a ‘Civil Rights’ Leader: Toward Abolishing Poverty and War by Correcting our Fatally Inadequate Remembering of MLK Jr.

Remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—primarily as a domestic “civil rights” leader—is inadequate, and sometimes harmful. The term “civil rights” fails to embrace King’s abolitionist movements toward the global abolition of poverty and war. King was a Baptist preacher. He advanced an optimistic realism (including a "realistic pacifism") that improves upon pessimistic-cynical versions of political realism. And King went beyond advancing “civil rights” to advancing economic rights and human rights. He prescribed adding an economic bill of rights to the US Constitution, plus full-employment supplemented by “guaranteed income,” and US-supported international efforts to achieve the total “abolition of poverty” and war throughout “the world house” (King 1967).

Listen to the lecture on our podcast SoundEthics here.

February 21, 2017

Stephen LongStephen Long, Maguire Chair of Ethics

Will the Truth Set You Free in a Post-Truth Political World?

Veritas liberabit vos – “the truth will set you free.” Southern Methodist University’s motto relates freedom to truth. If you want to be free, truth is one of its conditions. Is that assumption warranted? Not only recent political events that speak of “alternative facts” question it, but ancient and modern philosophers, rulers and poets were likewise suspicious. “What is truth?” said Pilate, and Francis Bacon reminds us, “he would not stay for an answer.” Is truth a source of political and ethical freedom, or is it freedom’s enemy?

This lecture will argue that speaking the truth is the most urgent political and ethical task in late modernity if we are to have a politics that is something other than a contest of wills. Achieving such a politics requires shifting the formation and education of moral agency away from preparation primarily for state and market life to virtuous communities and/or communities of care.

October 8, 2015  
Tom MayoTom Mayo, Professor of Law and Medical Ethicist

The Irrelevance of Death

"Medical scholars and practitioners agree that “death” is real: it happens. Increasingly, however, there is disagreement over when death occurs and whether the two prevailing standards for the determination of death (cardio-pulmonary and neurological criteria) provide meaningful guidance. At the same time, developments in the field of organ transplantation have led some medical ethicists to call for the abandonment of the “Dead Donor Rule” as a useless relic of a bygone era. This lecture will explore whether we are approaching a time when it may be legal and ethical to kill patients for their organs (and whether we have been at that point for decades without realizing it)." 

October 23, 2013
Howell Public ScholarRobert Howell, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy

Google Morals

If I lose my way when going from SMU to the Meyerson, I'm not terribly worried.  I simply pull out my phone and use Google Maps.  Wondrous technology aside, no one thinks that is a particularly strange way to come to know locations and distances.  Suppose, though, that I found myself in doubt about whether or not abortion was wrong, or whether eating meat was permissible.  Well, I can just pull out my phone and use Google Morals!  It will tell me the truth about the issues, and then I can go about my merry way voting and eating in accordance with my new beliefs.

Watch full lecture on YouTube Video

April 4, 2013  Ryszard StroynowskiRyszard Stroynowski, Ph.D., Professor of Physics

The Evolution of the Universe - Higgs and Beyond

"We teach students about science as an unchanging set of basic rules that govern our physical world as we see it today.  We justify them by quoting selected historical developments of our understanding creating an impression that science changes in a logical, linear fashion.  Such a picture is not quite right.  In our lifetime, many fields of science have undergone major revolutions of thought and paradigm changes." 

Watch full lecture on YouTube Video

October 1, 2012  Dennis SimonDennis Simon, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science 
 Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor 

The Politics of Memory and the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

“We are in the midst of a 50th Anniversary Season in which we commemorate a number of landmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. This talk will examine those events, highlight the major legacies of the civil rights movement, and consider the role of race and the memory of the movement in contemporary American Politics.”

Watch full lecture on YouTube Video

September 8, 2011 Billy Abraham William Abraham, Ph.D. 
 Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies 

Haunted Memories and Complex Loyalties

"All of us have our own memories of the events of 9/11. My own are haunted by memories of terrorism in Ireland. Yet there are crucial general issues raised by the arrival of international terrorism that cry out for attention. What exactly is terrorism and why do we think terrorism is intrinsically evil? Is there a real connection to religion or is this a smokescreen for other causal agents? What changes in our research programs about our history, our religion and culture are mandated by terrorism? This lecture will identify such issues and provide initial suggestions on how to proceed (and not to proceed) in answering them."

Lecture available on YouTube Video

April 20, 2011

Cal JillsonCal Jillson, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science 

Lone Star Tarnished: A Critique of Texas Public Policy

As California goes in eclipse, Texas is widely  touted as the ascendant model for the nation of limited government, economic growth, and personal freedom. While there is some merit to this view, it is at best a partial picture. The Texas model works well for the haves, but it leaves many public services – including education, health care, food security, transportation, the environment, and more – at best only partially addressed. Today’s have-nots, or have-lesses, depend on the delivery of high quality public services, most prominently public education, for their future prospects. Today, those prospects seem bleak. In this lecture, entitled "Lone Star Tarnished: Texas Public Policy and Its Deficiencies," we assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Texas model, look ahead to ask whether current problems are likely to shrink or grow, and we close by asking whether alternative pathways into the future are available to us.

Lecture now available on iTunesU

Past Public Scholar Lectures

2010-2011 Charles Curran: “The U.S. Catholic Bishops and Abortion Legislation: A Critique from within the Church”  (video forthcoming
2009-2010 Jenia Turner: “Ethical Dilemmas of International Criminal Defense Attorneys”  (view the video)

Wayne Shaw: "Ethics in Business: An Inherent Conflict?"   (view the video)
2008-2009 Robin Lovin: “Politics in Religious Perspective: Temptation, Tool, or Task” (view the video

Mark McPhail: “Confessions of an Expert Witness: Rhetoric, Politics, and Ethics at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda"  (view the video)

2007-2008 Tony Pederson: “Reporter Privilege: A Con Job or an Essential Part of Democracy” (view the video)

Barbara Hill Moore: “True to My Own Voice: Ethical Challenges in Transmitting Talent”

2006-2007 Joseph Kobylka: "When Bible Classes Go to the Supreme Court, What Will They Find?"

Marshall Terry: "The Founding and Defining of a University" (view the video)

2005-2006 Mark Chancey: “Politics, Culture Wars, and The Good Book: Recent Controversies Regarding the Bible and Pubic Education”
2004-2005 Carolyn Sargent & Carolyn Smith Morris: “Is There a Culturally Contextualized Alternative to the Four-Principles Approach in Bioethics? Anthropological Contributions to Ethics Dilemmas in Clinical Practice”
2003-2004 Michael Adler: “Who Is the Past? Ethics and Identity in Archaeology”
2002-2003 Kathleen Wellman: "Ethics and the Enlightenment"

Linda Eads: “The Law and Corporate Ethics”

2001-2002 Rebekah Miles: "The Ethics of Balancing Work and Family, In and Out of The Home in America"

Matthew Wilson: "Religion and Politics in America"

2000-2001 Jeffrey Gaba: "When Takings Happen to Good People: The Ethical Basis for Legal Rules Allowing Government Regulation of Land Use"

William May: "The Media: The Unordained Teaching Authority in the West"

1999-2000 Alastair Norcross: "Social Contract Theory and the Ethical Status of Animals"

Peter Winship: "Legislating Morals: Legal Prescriptions of Proper Business Behavior"

1998-1999 Joseph Allen: "Politics as a Calling"

Steven Sverdlik: "Compassion and Sympathy as Moral Motivation"

1997-1998 Michael Holahan: "'Look, her lips': Softness of Voice, Construction of Character in King Lear"

Bonnie Wheeler: "Pilgrimage and the Desire for Meaning"

1996-1997 James Hopkins: "The Private and Public Intellectual in the World and the Academy"