To specialize academically in one subject is a daunting endeavor. To specialize academically in multiple subjects is seemingly infeasible. Yet this is the demand of Dr. Dan McGee’s field of theological ethics, and he delivers. While he does not claim expertise in other fields, Dr. McGee acknowledges that ethics is truly an interdisciplinary study, noting that one professor jokingly called him Baylor’s “meddler in residence.” Describing the field of ethics as investigating “what’s morally right and wrong in human behavior,” Dr. McGee seeks to examine all studies that concern or influence this behavior, including biology, ecology, sociology, and theology.
Dr. McGee received his B.A. in English Literature at Furman University. Although he originally intended to become a minister, as an undergraduate Dr. McGee committed to the discipline of teaching after relating to his professors and their work. “I liked my professors and watching what they were doing,” he said. “I liked to explain things.” Amid the tense racial climate of South Carolina in the 1950s, Dr. McGee found a course in Christian Ethics particularly intriguing. He developed an “interest in the Christian faith and its relevance to contemporary issues” that prompted him to attend Southeastern Seminary, where he earned his B.D. and Th.M., before he received his Ph.D. in Theological Ethics at Duke University. Dr. McGee taught at Duke as a graduate assistant and later became a professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 1966, he arrived at Baylor, where he pioneered the Ethics program, teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses. It was Baylor’s church-state study center that first attracted Dr. McGee, who minored in political science at Duke, but Baylor received its new field of ethics enthusiastically, broadening Dr. McGee’s scope. “I did not envision all these opportunities,” he commented. Dr. McGee engaged in work in a variety of ethical areas, from teaching one of Baylor’s first bioethics courses in 1969 to lobbying for the establishment of Baylor’s institute on environmental studies.
Dr. McGee has directed numerous undergraduate theses, whose topics vary as does his research, encompassing the ethics of cloning as well as spirituality in the physician-patient relationship. “When you write something,” Dr. McGee explained, “you are required to do a more analytical task” than in speech, and he enjoys “watching students develop their skills in analysis.” For all his students, Dr. McGee provides frequent progress reports designed “to facilitate conversation between us about the paper.” “I learn things from these papers,” Dr. McGee said, and he cites them as one of his resources for staying current on a variety of issues.
To promote undergraduate scholarship, he sometimes begins a class with “a list of six to eight interesting articles on topics relevant to that particular class” that his students might choose to pursue for their research projects. “Teaching is not just lecture or in a classroom,” he said. Dr. McGee values the students at Baylor for being “competent with a wide range of interests,” and he said, “I’ve been grateful to the faculty members who are interested in ethical issues.” Researching globalization, racial issues, and bioethics among other subjects, Dr. McGee aptly summarizes his approach to his formidable field: “I tend to go with what the issues are.”