Truth, Ethics, and Citizenship at Syracuse University

December, 2018

Washington -- It was my pleasure and honor last week to be invited by Syracuse University to attend the Tanner Lecture Series on Ethics, Citizenship, and Public Responsibility.

The highlight of two days of events was the address by artist Robert Shetterly at a packed Setnor Auditorium. He was joined on stage by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Richard Bowen, whose portraits he recently painted in his series Americans Who Tell The Truth.

This was also the first time all of Rob Shetterly's 238 portraits had been assembled together, at the university's Schine Center, for a public show.

During the several events I met two portrait subjects for whom I have great respect for their work in the field of nutrition, Joan Dye Gussow and Stephen Ritz. Joan Gussow has been called the "matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally" food movement. Stephen Ritz is an urban farmer who does wonders in his Bronx classroom and across the country.

Richard Bowen is my friend of several years; we are connected through the Government Accountability Project. His work a decade ago to try to save the financial world from its own self-destruction is being recounted in a new film by a French filmaker.

Until last week I had never met Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint, Michigan, pediatrician who revealed lead in the Flint water supply. We talked at length about our common experiences in getting data out of government agencies that did not want to give them up, and how we both had to do data analyses on our own, over government objections. She is a force of nature and, as part of an Iraqi immigrant family, an example of what immigrants contribute to America.

My favorite moment from the Tanner Lecture was when Dr. Mona, as she is known, was asked by a person in the audience if she ever felt intimidated by all the local, state, and federal officials who initially denounced her work. She said no, not when she reflected on how important her work was to Flint's children. She actually laughed and said her attitude was "bring it on." As she spoke last week, criminal trials in Michigan continued, fixing responsibility for the Flint public health disaster, a validation of her efforts.

Many thanks especially to Dr. James Clark for his part in organizing these events, to Dr. Julia Ganson of GAP, to Mr. Lynn Tanner for sponsoring the lecture series, and to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse for its leadership in ethics.