In 1988, the idea of promoting an ethics program at the Academy to address the importance of character in government and in life was being nurtured and developed by the Class of 1948, and then it was approved and has grown ever since. In 2000, the Class of 1948 asked the Class of 1957 to join them in a partnership to sponsor the Ethics Forum and they did. Today their combined Endowments are well over $500,000 and fully support the Ethics Forum annually and in perpetuity. But back to the beginning.
Given the increased complications junior officers face and what was seen as a gradual deterioration in moral and ethical standards of behavior within government (the nation was then living through the Iran-Contra scandal), the Class of 1948 strongly felt that the Academy graduates should have the best foundation possible in the humanities, government, integrity, ethics, and political judgment. Furthermore, they felt that Academy graduates must be outstanding citizens, as well as good officers and leaders.
In the spring of 1989, a committee composed of members of the Class of ’48 recommended an annual Ethics Forum be established to supplement the honor education of the Corps of Cadets. The Forum was to be something extra, an enhancement to the excellent academic and professional training programs already in place. On Sept. 7, 1989, the Class of 1948 established an endowment fund, “To provide a source of investment income to stimulate and enrich the training of the Corps of Cadets in good citizenship and ethics.” The first Ethics Forum was held in 1990.
After their 45th class reunion in the fall of 1993, the Class of ’48 expressed pleasure that the Ethics Forum program appeared to be well established and that it was making a positive contribution within the total framework of the cadet education and development. The Forum provides cadets with a non-academic setting in which they can discuss ethical issues and situations, and with an opportunity to hear notable speakers talk about the ethical issues and situations which they have faced. It thus reinforces the importance of ethics in their professional lives, as well as giving them an opportunity to develop the ethical decision-making skills they will need as Coast Guard officers.
In 2000, two events occurred: the Class of 1957 joined in a partnership with the Class of 1948 and the Ethics Forum now involved a full day stand-down by the entire Corps of Cadets. The Class of ’57 Endowment Committee Chair had said to his classmates; “This is a good thing to do” and they agreed. The stand-down now required participation by the Corps as a whole each year for the first time. Since the spring of 2004, the Ethics Forum has grown to include topics such as ethics in academia, broadcasting, business, engineering, environment, finance, government, journalism, leadership, medicine, military, sports, terror management, and water resource management.
In 2007, the Class of ’57 renamed their Endowment. It is now The Class of 1957 Admiral J William Kime Ethics Endowment to honor the memory of their classmate and 19th Commandant of the Coast Guard. A large inscribed stone was presented to Mrs Kime by Admiral Matteson ’57 during the 18th Ethics Forum Keynote evening. Mrs Kime was deeply touched by Bill’s classmate’s thoughtfulness, Today the inscribed stone is in the ground on the Alumni Center patio facing the football field and is surrounded by donor bricks. That same evening Admiral Wetmore ’48 recognized Captains Virge Rinehart and Bob Bosnak who had made very generous gifts to their class Endowment before they died. The Admiral spoke of their character and competence, and their success in life in and outside the Coast Guard. They loved their Coast Guard and their Academy, and lived the ethical message that the Forum teaches.
Over the years, the keynote speakers have included the Honorable Eugene R. Sullivan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Brigadier General Malham Wakin (USAF, Ret.), General Perry Smith (USA, Ret.), Dr. William Bennett, General Charles C. Krulak (USMC, Ret.), FBI Director Louis Freeh, General Claudia Kennedy (USA, retired), Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics, Robert (Bob) Lutz, Vice Chairman of General Motors Product Development and Admiral Robert Kramek USCG(Ret.) the 20th Commandant of the US Coast Guard. On the morning following the keynote address, invited professionals with expertise in a number of areas join in a day of panel discussions and in small group classroom discussions throughout the Academy. Ethical issues they confront in their daily duties are addressed. Discussions are vibrant and vital to the Forum’s success.
For the cadets, the Ethics Forum serves as an opportunity to learn from speakers with a wide breadth of real world experience and training, as well as examine moral dilemmas in greater detail. Overall the experience has a positive effect on both the Corps of Cadets and those who visit, giving all a chance to learn from each other, asking and answering the hard questions about morality.