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Robert M. Franklin spoke about the important of moral leadership in today’s society at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and Hotel on March 21.

The recent college admissions cheating scandal played a role in Robert M. Franklin’s lecture to explain why the world needs more moral leadership. He encouraged colleges to quickly and correctly address this issue to prevent further moral decline by administrators and wealthy families with an ability to circumvent the rules.

The Donald L. Hollowell lecture was held in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and Hotel on March 21. A professor and minister, Franklin’s goal was to inspire dialogue about “the nature of moral leadership and why we need more of it now,” Franklin said in his lecture

Franklin opened his speech by describing a conversation he had with a lawyer at an event one evening. The lawyer was shocked to hear that moral leadership was being taught in universities but remarked that it was an important subject.

“He had quickly surmised that not only was moral leadership a thing but that it might actually be a welcome response to an urgent private and public need,” Franklin said.

Franklin described moral leaders as those individuals of integrity, courage and imagination who seek to serve the common good and encourage others to participate.


"These trend lines of lying, cheating, theft, hatred, violence, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and so on will not simply stop and reverse themselves.”

— Robert M. Franklin, Emory professor and minister


Franklin said, there are three components to help advocate for more moral leadership: democracy requires virtue, we are in a steady state of “almost-nosedive” moral decline and this decline is contagious.

Franklin explained society is in a steady state of “almost-nosedive” moral decline and this decline is contagious. He also said democracy requires virtue. These are the reasons, Franklin said, moral leadership is necessary now more than ever.

“We need the virtue conversation because we are slipping, we are losing,” Franklin said. "These trend lines of lying, cheating, theft, hatred, violence, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and so on will not simply stop and reverse themselves.”

Through his research, Franklin said he studied and profiled moral leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Mays and Eleanor Roosevelt.

It is difficult, Franklin acknowledged, to engage students on this subject, but he has noticed an increase of youthful voices from the next generation of leaders.

“Young people are emerging in some exciting ways, those young people who are here on the campus of UGA,” Franklin said.

Youth activists such as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school and Black Lives Matter members use social media to get their views across and defy the status quo, Franklin said.

“We should strive just to be open to learning from each other,” Director of UGA’s Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights Llewellyn Cornelius said in an email. “The lessons of moral leadership can come from any space on or off campus and from anyone.”

UGA School of Social Work Program Coordinator Mumbi Mwaura agrees that a social media presence will stimulate moral leadership examples and discussion.

“I think that we can use that to our advantage,” Mwaura said. “I think that people are willing and able to hear that message, but I think sometimes it maybe gets lost in what’s going on.”

The Donald L. Hollowell Lecture is sponsored by the School of Social Work, the Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights and the Thomas M. Parham professorship. Hollowell, the lecture’s namesake, was a civil rights attorney who led the charge in desegregating the UGA after winning a landmark court case in 1961.

“One of the core parts of our lecture is the promotion of speakers that address issues of direct relevance to social justice and human rights,” Cornelius said in his opening remarks.

Franklin knew Hollowell personally after listening to one of his speeches given to his college business fraternity. Over time, Franklin thought of him as a mentor.

“He was an extraordinary creator of common ground,” Franklin said.

The next event in the Signature Lecture series will feature Comptroller General of the U.S. Gene Dodaro on March 25 at 2 p.m. in the Chapel.

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