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September 20, 2007

William F. May Appointed to Maguire Chair in American History at the John W. Kluge Center

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has appointed William F. May to the Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in American History and Ethics at the John W. Kluge Center for a three-month tenure from September to December.

May is a leading scholar in the field of medical ethics who has taught at Smith College and at Indiana, Southern Methodist and Georgetown universities. Upon his retirement at SMU, May also served a year as a visiting professor at the Institute for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University.

At the Kluge Center, May will conduct research on the shift of political anxieties in the West, from the mindset during the Cold War (the West vs. tyranny) to the current apprehensions (the West vs. anarchy). He will bring a religious interpretation to the political analysis. May is conducting the research to prepare for the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary.

May is a fellow of the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life at the University of Virginia. In 1993 he served on the Ethical Foundations subgroup for the Clinton Task Force on National Health Care Reform; and, from 2002 to 2004, as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. From 1985 to 2001, May was the Cary M. Maguire Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University, where he also founded and directed the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility. May also founded and chaired the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University, where he taught from 1966 to 1980. From 1952 to 1966, May taught at Smith College, where he twice served as chair of the Department of Religion.

A 1978 Guggenheim Foundation fellow, May is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and a founding fellow of the Hastings Center, where he co-chaired its research group on death and dying. He has served at length on the Phi Beta Kappa panel of visiting lecturers and scholars.

May has written widely on the moral and ethical obligations that health care professionals have to patients. In 2001 he published a study of eight professions under the title "The Beleaguered Rulers: The Public Obligation of the Professional." He also wrote "The Physician’s Covenant" (1982, Revised Edition 2000), "The Patient’s Ordeal" (1991) and "Testing the Medical Covenant: Euthanasia and Health Care Reform" (1996).

May is the fifth appointment to the Maguire Chair at the Kluge Center. The first was John T. Noonan, a judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; followed by Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago; Mark Noll of Wheaton College; and Louis Galambos of Johns Hopkins University. The holder of the Maguire Chair conducts research on ethical issues associated with American history. Research may include the conduct of politics and government at all levels of American life as well as the role of religion, business, urban affairs, law, science and medicine in the ethical dimensions of leadership.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate, energize and distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

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PR 07-183
ISSN 0731-3527

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