While the study of human values has been associated traditionally with humanities disciplines such as philosophy and literary studies, questions of what is humanly important, or what promotes human well-being, are raised in every faculty and broad disciplinary area. Questions, for example, of what kinds of research should be given priority, or what professional practices should be encouraged or discouraged, involve questions of value.
Such questions of value may be thought peripheral to a given core discipline, since the core discipline may be centrally concerned with questions of fact. Fact is regarded as objective, whereas value is often denigrated as merely subjective. To say something is a "mere value-judgment" is to imply that it is a matter of mere personal opinion as opposed to a matter that can be settled by rational discussion and research. Contemporary philosophers such as Hilary Putnam of Harvard have questioned the validity of the fact-value dichotomy (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays, Harvard University Press, 2002). At very least we can say that the "common-sense" distinction between facts and values is questionable.
The unfortunate legacy of the "common-sense" view that values are merely subjective is the foreclosure of rational discussion. Experience shows that questions of value can be clarified by rational discussion and argument. While discussion on a question of value may not arrive at unanimity, the strongest and most persuasive arguments may establish a measure of intersubjective agreement such that it is possible to say that certain values are the most intelligent or humane or inclusive. Values regarding the environment and renewable energy, for example, have changed, arguably for the better, as a result of debate, research and rational discussion.
The role of a centre for human values in a university is to be a central focus for the promotion of rational and informed discussion of questions involving values among teachers, researchers and students across the whole university.