Dena S. Davis, a world renowned expert in biomedical ethics and the James A. Thomas Distinguished Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, has been named Lehigh’s first Presidential Endowed Chair in Health in the social sciences and humanities. Davis will officially assume her new role Aug. 1.
The appointment follows an international search. The new position is the result of a $3-million endowment established in 2008 for each of two new professorships, one in the social sciences and humanities and one in science and engineering. The search focused on talent and leadership and crossed college and department lines.
A search is continuing for the Presidential Chair in the sciences and engineering continues.
In her new role, Davis is expected to advance research, develop research collaborations with Lehigh faculty, and strengthen ongoing relationships with a local medical and health care community that includes nationally recognized hospital centers and medical and public health institutions. She will also work closely with health-related programs on campus that include the undergraduate Health, Medicine and Society program as well as graduate programs.
Davis’ appointment furthers Lehigh’s goal to address grand challenges through cross-disciplinary research activity in several areas, including health, said Lehigh President Alice Gast.
“I am pleased that we have attracted such a distinguished scholar and collaborative force in the first Presidential Chair,” Gast said. “We were looking for somebody to generate new ideas and excitement among colleagues and we have found that in Dena Davis.”
Extensive international experience
Search committee co-chairs George DuPaul and Judy Lasker said the group was excited to bring a bioethicist of Davis’ caliber to Lehigh.
“We were very impressed by Dr. Davis’s expertise and reputation in the study of bioethics and law with applications to genetics in particular,” said Lasker, department chair and N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of sociology and anthropology.
“Additionally, she has extensive experience working in other countries and will bring an important international dimension to the study of health at Lehigh. Her plans to organize conferences and programs that draw on a wide array of health interests at Lehigh will advance this field in very visible ways on campus.”
DuPaul, department chair of education and human services and professor of school psychology, said Davis would “clearly bring the necessary energy, enthusiasm and scholarly leadership to help catalyze health-related research and teaching across all four colleges. Her work has many potential connections across a wide variety of fields and we all look forward to collaborating with her for many years to come.”
Davis has been a visiting scholar at the National Human Genome Research Institute at Arizona State University and at the Hastings Center, and holds an adjunct appointment at Case Western Reserve University’s department of biomedical ethics. She is a faculty associate in Case Western’s Center for Genetic Research Ethics and Law.
She is the author of several articles on biomedical ethics and two books, Genetic Dilemmas: Reproductive Technology, Parental Choices, and Children’s Futures (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Notes from a Narrow Ridge: Religious Studies and Bioethics (University Publishing Group, 1999), which she coauthored. A third book, How Genes Tell Stories, is in progress.
A member of the NIH Embryonic Stem Cell Eligibility Working Group, Davis served as senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, as legal consultant to the Committee on Bioethics at the American Academy of Pediatrics, and on the boards of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and of the American Academy of Religion.
Davis has been a Fulbright scholar in India and Israel, and a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Indonesia, Italy and Sweden.
She earned a B.A. in religion from Marlboro College, a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, and a Ph.D. in religion from the University of Iowa. She was a Fellow in the Department of Bioethics at the Cleveland Clinic.
“A sense of vitality”
Davis said she was attracted to the endowed chair at Lehigh because of its potential and its solid grounding in interdisciplinary teaching and research.
“The interdisciplinary component isn’t something you have to convince people of the need of,” she said. “It’s actually written into the position. It’s very much what I am as well, and I had this sense that Lehigh isn’t a place that’s just going along with it, but is actively embracing it. The leaders recognized the need for a program like this, and have put the resources behind it.”
Davis was also drawn to the aura of vitality articulated in the university’s ambitious strategic plan and on its Web site.
“I was struck by the sense that Lehigh is in a very energetic and robust phase of its existence,” she said. “It’s not at a place where it’s cutting back. It’s really moving forward in a significant way and ‘expanding its intellectual footprint,’ as was stated in the plan.”
“I had the same feeling when I came here to visit,” she continued. “You have a real sense of vitality across the campus – people are very positive. I had the impression that the people here have the will to actually make good ideas happen.”
In her new role, Davis will be tenured in the department of religion, and will work with departments across the university. She says she plans to continue her teaching and research in biomedical ethics, and hopes to advance interest and programming in the discipline, possibly including international components.
“There is so much opportunity and so much to explore,” she says. “In speaking with people, I’ve gotten this sense that there is optimism here, that there is a real can-do attitude. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”