“It is critical that our students leave our campus with an ability and a desire to engage in the moral discourse required to give greater meaning to our national life.”

(Harold T. Shapiro *64, in his inaugural speech as 18th president of Princeton University)

Soon after President Shapiro’s inauguration, he invited an interdisciplinary faculty group to make plans for what would become the University Center for Human Values. The group was led by founding director Amy Gutmann, at the time professor of politics at Princeton and now president of the University of Pennsylvania. Its aim was to deepen and enhance collaboration at Princeton among scholars across the disciplines with a shared commitment to research and teaching about values in public and private life.

A series of generous gifts from Laurance S. Rockefeller '32  enabled the University to realize the vision of the founding group. Mr. Rockefeller's senior thesis, The Concept of Value and its Relation to Ethics, can be viewed by the campus community here. His gifts would eventually support all of the Center’s signature activities: a program of visiting faculty fellowships, a fellowship program for outstanding Princeton graduate students, an interdisciplinary colloquium on ethics and public affairs, and a lecture series on ethics and political philosophy. Rockefeller funds also support several joint faculty positions in politics, philosophy, and the School of Public and International Affairs and several research programs. Beginning in 2010, the gifts have also made possible the Center's undergraduate certificate program.

The Center acquired physical space with the completion of Marx Hall in 1993, renamed in 2022 in honor of Laura Wooten, the longest serving U.S. poll worker. Many of the seminars and colloquia sponsored by the Center take place in the Russell B. Kerstetter Seminar Room (301 Wooten Hall), the gift of Mr. Kerstetter's son, Bert G. Kerstetter '66, and the heart of the Center’s intellectual life.  

Since its inception, the Center has been directed by Amy Gutmann, George Kateb, Stephen Macedo, Charles Beitz, and Melissa Lane.