The McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility was founded in 2012 under the Center's current director, Dr. Bernard G. Prusak. It succeeds two earlier ethics centers at King's, the first founded in 1994 as a joint undertaking of the philosophy and theology departments, the second founded in 2005 to serve the College's business school.
Among other activities, the McGowan Center hosts five to ten public events per year, including six annual lectures: the Labor Day Lecture, the Constitution Day Lecture, the Feast of Saint Francis Lecture, the Bessette Lecture on Medical Ethics, the Science and Humanities Lecture, and the Earth Day Lecture and/or Symposium. The Center also co-hosts an annual Hesburgh Lecture with the Notre Dame Club of Hanover Township and regularly co-sponsors the King's Honors Program's annual Grimes Lecture.
Labor Day lecturers have included economists Teresa Ghilarducci, from the New School for Social Research, and David Feldman, from the College of William and Mary; sociologist Patrisia Macias-Rojas, from the University of Illinois at Chicago; historian Allen Dieterich-Ward, from Shippensburg University; and entrepreneur Kris Jones.
Constitution Day lectures have been given by Gregory Bassham, from King's College (PA); Robert Vischer, from the University of St. Thomas (MN); and Mary Ellen O'Connell, from the University of Notre Dame. In 2018, Beth Admiraal (King's College), Thomas Baldino (Wilkes University), and Michael Moreland (Villanova University) participated in a panel discussion on the limits of presidential power. In 2019, Thomas Mackaman (King's College) joined Drs. Admiraal and Moreland for a panel discussion on birthright citizenship.
Journalist Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, editor-at-large of Commonweal magazine, gave the inaugural Feast of Saint Francis Lecture, followed by Patrick Ryan, S.J., from Fordham University; Iia DeLio, O.S.F., from Villanova University; Nicholas Cafardi, from Duquesne University; Patricia Talone, formerly Vice President of Mission Services for the Catholic Health Association; and Mary Beth Gallagher, Executive Director of Investor Advocates for Social Justice.
Bessette lecturers have been F. Daniel Davis, Chief Bioethics Officer for the Geisinger Medical System; Daniel Sulmasy, from Georgetown University; Kevin FitzGerald, S.J., from Creighton University; Kate Rossiter, from Wilfrid-Laurier University; Michael Gusmano, from the Hastings Center and Rutgers University; Joel Shuman, from King's College; and Sarah Vittone, from Georgetown University.
The Center's Science and Humanities Lecture was inaugurated by Marvin Bolt, from the Corning Museum of Glass, followed by Mitchell Wayne, from the University of Notre Dame; Christiana Zenner, from Fordham University; Christopher Chabris, from the Geisinger Health System; and Wendy Roth, from the University of Pennsylvania.
Other guests of note have included the biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine, from Vanderbilt University; the theologian Gabriel Reynolds, from the University of Notre Dame; the philosophers Meghan Sullivan and Robert Audi, from the University of Notre Dame, Aaron Cobb, from Auburn University at Montgomery, and Shelley Burrt, from the Camphill Foundation; and Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton.