The committee for the Watterson Institute for Ethical Leadership excited to transform UF

Dr. Sarah Fedirka shares her experience as the committee facilitator 

By Lauren Wolters,

On April 7, 2022, the University of Findlay announced the largest donation in its history from Billy and Brenda Watterson of $6 million, which kicked off the “Together We Will” campaign. The campaign has been raising money for various renovations and scholarships at UF including the addition of the Watterson Center for Ethical Leadership. In addition to the proposed building, UF staff and community members work towards the establishment of the Watterson Institute for Ethical Leadership. 

“I was excited about the idea that there was going to be a new building,” Dr. Sarah Fedirka, Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department said. “The white houses are great too, but they’re not accessible. In my white house, there are no ramps. If you want to go see a faculty person, as a student, and you have any kind of need for a ramp or to not go upstairs, that’s a challenge. So, the idea that you’d have a building that’s fully accessible was very exciting.” 

The Watterson Center for Ethical Leadership will house the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences offices and be the hub for ethical leadership development. The goal of the Watterson Institute for Ethical Leadership is to develop programming that can bring together the individual ethical and leadership experiences UF already offers. 

“We recognize that already on this campus every college [and] every student service area, has programs, classes, lectures, that help develop students as leaders and address issues of ethics, but we’re very siloed here,” Dr. Fedirka said. “So, we already are doing the things; many of them that help our students become ethical leaders. But we don’t really know what they are outside of our own college. I like to believe [this institute] can help bring us together for a common purpose.” 

Dr. Fedirka became the facilitator for the working group of the Watterson Institute for Ethical Leadership in the middle of the spring semester last year. The working group has been meeting with Dr. Katherine Fell, UF’s Board of Trustees, and the Wattersons to determine how the institute will operate to improve ethical leadership development on campus. 

“My role is getting this institute established,” Dr. Fedirka said. “We can run an institute without the building. While the building will be [a] wonderful and exciting addition to campus, the institute will absolutely help bring all our students and faculty together.” 

The working group for the institute has a total of 12 members including Dr. Fedirka who facilitates the group. There are six members representing different student services and six members representing each of the six colleges at UF. The group met throughout the summer and continues to meet regularly to discuss the institute’s establishment. 

 “The first job of the institute is simply to get a survey of campus to have a big picture of what we are already doing, what we are doing well, [and] where we are duplicating our efforts,” Dr. Fedirka said. 

Dr. Fedirka hopes to complete step one by the spring semester. She said that step two will be understanding what ethical leadership is and how this can look at UF. 

They estimate the working group to take about a year to complete both steps. She hopes that by next fall the Watterson Institute will have a mission and a vision. Dr. Fedirka hopes that the institute can begin its work before the Watterson building is complete and be easily incorporated into the finished building. 

Dr. Fedirka believes that the biggest obstacles of establishing the institute are time and money. All of the members of the working group have a lot of commitments so finding time to meet for the institute can be challenging. The group consists of both retirees and newly graduated individuals. 

One such idea Dr. Fedirka and the institute would like to explore is applying UF’s motto to UF employees. 

“We do a really great job helping students think through what it means to live a meaningful life and a productive career,” Dr. Fedirka said. “We could do better helping our employees think through what it means to live a meaningful life and a productive career here…what does a meaningful life and a productive career look like for you.” 

Dr. Fedirka also believes that the Watterson Institute will give UF and the institute members a legacy in ethics and leadership. 

“It’s also a way of saying the humanities matter on this campus,” Dr. Fedirka said. “Sometimes I think people forget because the humanities tend to be represented through CORE+. So, the idea that now as a campus, people are making a commitment in terms of just the building to housing humanities faculty is exciting too.” 

This building will help faculty members collaborate better, since they are housed in the same building. 

“I’m excited for a chance to break from our white houses,” Dr. Fedirka said. “It will be lovely for more of us to be together in the same space, because that’s where collaboration and new ideas come.” 

Dr. Fedirka believes that the Watterson building will likely go where the white houses are now. 

“I would love to see elements of those white houses worked into the finished building,” Fedirka said. “Because that’s part of who we are. To me this building brings together our past, our present and our future. The building represents all those things on campus. So, I think the building undoubtedly will transform campus. I think what happens in the building, even more importantly, will transform lives.”