When Dr. Joanne Ciulla arrived at the University of Richmond in 1991, the Jepson School was still a vision. In December, the Jepson School honored Ciulla, who will retire from the University and launch the next stage of her career in spring 2017, with its Jepson School Award for Leadership & Service.

Ciulla was instrumental in making the vision for Jepson School a reality. She helped shape both the School, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in the 2017–18 academic year, and the field of leadership studies. 

 “The most important thing is to educate people to take on the moral responsibilities of leadership. And all leadership is service to society,” Ciulla said. “And that is the goal I think we continue to build.”

Ciulla realized that every student, especially those who aspire to leadership, should study ethics. She designed the courses Critical Thinking and Leadership Ethics at the School. Leadership Ethics, the School’s capstone course, challenges students to study prominent ethical theories and analyze ethical problems from a broadened moral perspective.

“[Ethics] was so important to leadership studies because it was almost completely lacking in any serious philosophic way. So it wasn’t that people were unethical or anything, but there was no academic work on ethics by philosophers,” Ciulla said.

She adds, “And then, of course, critical thinking, that was like the first class we agreed on with no discussion whatsoever. It’s the basis for everything. It’s how you see the world; it’s how you learn; it’s a foundation for lifelong learning.”

Ciulla described returning to the classics, like Aristotle and Machiavelli, and to literature, like Shakespeare, to find material for her classes. “You first went and you said, ‘What’s here?’ And then you build from there,” she said.

Ciulla received the University of Richmond Distinguished Educator Award in 2009 and an Outstanding Educator Award from the Virginia State Council of Higher Education in 2003. In spring 2016, she was recognized for 25 years of service to the University. She says she hopes foremost that her classes prepare students to be successful as human beings: “And then if they go on to leadership, they’ll probably be better leaders because they’re better human beings.”

Ciulla has been invited to present research in 28 countries, and has held visiting appointments at universities in the United States, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In addition to publishing numerous books and papers, she is on the editorial boards for journals in leadership studies and business ethics, and she is the editor of a book series, New Horizons in Leadership, which currently consists of 29 volumes, six of which were published by Jepson School faculty members.

“Dr. Ciulla’s dedication to the study of ethics helped lay the foundation for the Jepson School’s curriculum and purpose. Through both her teaching and her personal scholarship, she has fostered and reaffirmed our commitment to ethics and engagement and increased our international connections and reputation,” says Sandra J. Peart, dean of the Jepson School.

This spring, Ciulla will put on her builder’s cap once again as she begins a new stage in her career at Rutgers University.

“I’m looking forward to building the Institute of Ethical Leadership, which is part research into leadership ethics and part will be outreach to a variety of communities here and abroad,” she says.