David Holiday

In his new role as Washington & Jefferson College’s director of the Center for Ethical Leadership, David Holiday will indulge a passion – advising and mentoring students.

The center was established in the fall semester, and Holiday is its inaugural director.

First-year students will be paired with faculty advisers and student success consultants, who will guide students in taking advantage of opportunities to develop skills in ethical reasoning and action provided by the center’s programming.

“The idea for the Center for Ethical Leadership is to have a physical location on campus and centralized offices to administer an ethical leadership program,” Holiday said.

The program will be a four-year requirement for all W&J students beginning in the fall 2022 semester. Washington & Jefferson is believed to be the first institution in the country to have a four-year ethical leadership program that is required of all students.

“All of the students will graduate with a clear sense of what they stand for, their identity, their character, their values and their style and strength as a leader, while also possessing the skills and tools to continue developing as leaders through their careers and adult lives,” Holiday said. “The core idea is set students up so that when they graduate and enter their professions, they have a better and more developed understanding of themselves as leaders.”

Holiday, 41, started the position shortly before winter break and admitted he is still learning his way around campus and meeting the faculty and staff. He comes to W&J after a stint as director of the Jackson Family Center for Ethics and Values, at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he also served as lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

A college with a smaller enrollment was one of the features that attracted Holiday to this position.

“It’s a smallish liberal arts college with a very low faculty-to-student ratio,” Holiday said. “The faculty takes teaching very seriously; the college takes developing mentoring between the faculty and students very seriously, and it also takes very seriously developing students in a very holistic sense of thinking about student values and character and emotional maturity.”

Dr. John Knapp, Washington & Jefferson president, said Holiday’s past success with a similar program made him an attractive hire.

“We were hoping to find a leader of our new ethical leadership center who actually had experience in developing programming that was successful in achieving outcomes like those that we’ve established for our center,” Knapp said. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve found someone who had been doing that work at another university and who is eager to come and be the founding director of our center and help us get the program off the ground successfully. He’s a wonderful addition to the college.”

Ethics and leadership are a big part of Knapp’s background, as he directed ethics centers at other institutions throughout his career. The Center for Ethical Leadership will provide college-wide opportunities for students to become change-makers in their professions and communities, while gaining the confidence to lead others to envision solutions that serve the common good.

“Our college’s aim has long been to develop graduates of uncommon integrity,” Knapp explained. “We take that seriously. So, this is a way of ensuring that our graduates are people who have had the opportunity to become people of uncommon integrity, who would be respected and recognized by others for their character and high standards and are committed to the betterment of the organizations and communities that they’re part of. I believe that developing future leaders is the most important work that we do.”

Holiday will collaborate with faculty and with the Office of Academic Affairs. He will work with faculty to develop and integrate opportunities to learn about ethics, and to practice leadership, into students’ academic studies.

He also will collaborate with the Division of Student Life to develop programming that advances learning in ethical leadership through student organizations, athletics and other extra- and co-curricular service activities and experiences.

Holiday is excited to be getting in at the inception of the Center for Ethical Leadership.

“I’m able to more design a program and can get all of the best parts from my old job and leave out what I don’t think is relevant to student experience,” Holiday explained. “For me, it’s exciting that it’s all focused on students. I’m excited to have this student development program that the university is trying to create. It’s nice to get in on the ground floor and have a role in shaping it as it develops.”

For now, the department is just Holiday, but he hopes to someday add some student workers since he hopes to establish some service and community engagement programs.

Holiday was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in the United Kingdom and lived in Japan for a time. He holds a B.A. in psychology and philosophy from Oxford University, an masters from Edinburgh University in Scotland, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Holiday, a father of two, is also a passionate cook, fluent in Japanese, and a fan of Chicago sports teams and the Arsenal football club.

He lives in Mt. Lebanon and is excited about what lies ahead in his new job.

“The community of students is a tight one. The students know each other, and know each other well,” Holiday said. “It seems to be a very vibrant, exciting community to be joining. I’m really excited to get going.”

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