In the early 1990s, when Dr. Harry Hollis proposed to begin a business ethics course at Belmont, he was pioneering something completely new.
“He was really ahead of his time,” said Boyd Smith, current director of the Center for Business Ethics. “It all goes back to Dr. Hollis.”
In those days, ethics was thought to be for philosophers, not for businessmen, said his wife Peggy Hollis. When Hollis suggested the college of business address issues of morality, he was met with resistance.
Even so, thanks to years of hard work by Hollis, Belmont’s Center for Business Ethics opened its doors in 1994. Founded by Dr. Hollis and Dr. Clifford Eubanks, it was among the first of its kind in the nation.
In the wake of Dr. Hollis’ recent passing on Sunday, his family and the Belmont community celebrate his legacy of doing the right thing.
Even before he was a popular professor at Belmont, moral teaching was a big part of Hollis’ life; growing up with a father as a minister, he was constantly learning about moral philosophy.
“Ethics was his passion. He believed that there is no black and white. There’s always a gray area somewhere on almost every subject,” said Peggy.
“He understood ethics on a deep level. It’s just who Harry was.”
That passion for ethics carried onto his career as a spokesperson for the Baptist church, where he delivered sermons to thousands of people, and then finally into his career as a professor at Belmont — where he remained for nearly 20 years.
“He is a classic example of not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. He absolutely was always trying to do the right thing. He served, for people like myself and other faculty, as a role model,” said Harold Fogelberg, who succeeded Hollis as director.
It was Hollis’ authenticity and energy that afforded his courses so much success. As his class gained in popularity, business ethics was instituted as a requisite for business majors.
“A lot of it was Harry’s personality. But it was also an intriguing new kind of subject,” said Peggy.
He quickly became known to his students as a knowledgeable and personable professor with creative group projects — and an affinity for bowties.
“He clearly thought you could have fun and learn business ethics at the same time,” said Smith.
But Hollis believed he could grow the resources available to students even more by bringing in a larger community.
So the Center for Business Ethics, now named the Edward C. Kennedy Center for Business Ethics, was founded to bring business professionals into the discussion of integrity.
Since its inception, the center has brought high-profile professionals to the university as a part of convocation. Hollis was instrumental in bringing some of the first major speakers, such as Harvard professor Lynn Sharp Paine, into the Curb event center with attendance overflowing.
“At the second or third event, they had fire marshals at the door because they were concerned about it being full. The wife of the then Dean of College of Business got locked out because she got there too late and she didn’t get to go into the event,” said Peggy.
But Dr. Hollis didn’t stop at discussing ethics in the business world. He was also on the front lines of the conversation that changed Belmont’s mascot from the Rebels to the now-iconic Bruins.
“He was very-forward thinking. There wasn’t that much controversy about sports teams names back then. The issue was certainly there, it just wasn’t in mainstream media conversations like it is today,” said Smith.
In 2008, Hollis also brought the conversation of ethics into the Belmont-hosted presidential debate. By bringing in John Seigenthaler and his son to speak, Hollis initiated a conversation about ethics in media and politics.
Now, just 12 years later, the center will continue this legacy by hosting yet another conversation on what it means to be ethical in the media as the 2020 presidential debate nears.
“The legacy of Dr. Hollis lives on, as he started this idea of integrity in the media,” said Smith.
The center, now directed by Smith, continues to carry on much of the work introduced by Dr. Hollis since his retirement in 2010.
“Business ethics is an ongoing, living, vibrant and critical part of any business student’s education at Belmont. The issues that were present during the years he taught, albeit in different packages so to speak, are still relevant today,” said Smith.
The center’s primary mission is to provide additional programming on the wide range of business ethics topics to students and foster conversations on campus.
As Belmont students hold discussions around the questions surrounding environmental issues, gender wage gaps and hiring bias, they can attribute the groundbreaking work of Hollis to their education.
In the Belmont community, Hollis will be remembered by the 6,000 students he taught and faculty members alike as a beloved professor — and as the man who always did the right thing.
“He has meant a lot to so many people. He is one of those rare individuals who no one has any unkind or unflattering comments,” said Smith.
This article written by Kendall Crawford.