Sunday, November 6, 2011

(25) Faculty Responsibility in the Business Scandals

        While teaching a variety of business courses in the School of Business at
 the University of Rio Grande a few years ago, I wrote the following e-mail to all
 our faculty to challenge them to face up to our responsibility in regard to ethics
 violations of some of our former students.  Certainly many have temptations and at
 least some have fallen into it be it major or minor.  What I wrote then is surely
 as timely today as ever.

        One of my former students who graduated ended up in the illicit drug business
 and recently was murdered.  I wondered if I and my fellow faculty could have formed
 him better so that he would not have gotten into such a life style and tragic end
 to his days on earth.     

        Ironic is that at one time and it may still be true that Harvard had more
 ex-convicts among its alumni than any other college.  This and the epidemic of
 scandals led Harvard and many other great institutions of  higher learning to place
 a new emphasis on courses in business ethics.  There should be a special required
 course in business ethics and social responsibility for all business students and
 the principles should be examined in all courses across the curriculum.  


        Over the past two years we have seen one business scandal after another.....
accounting fraud, conflict of interest, inside trading, stock manipulation, etc.....
Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Arthur Anderson, Tyco, Imclone, Adelphia, Merrill
Lynch, etc.  The executives involved were indicted, are being tried, and will be
going to jail.  

       They had the best educations from the best universities, one having a PhD.
They were brilliant and capable.   These people had everything going for them. They
were at the top of big corporations, already multimillionaires.  Martha Stewart
built a marketing empire.  But it wasn't enough.  They wanted more.....old 
fashioned greed took over as they served themselves rather than their customers and their
stockholders.  The bubble burst and apparently very successful careers were ruined
as they fell from the top into notoriety and failure.  Martha Stewart only saved
$50,000 through her inside trading, then  losing over a million in litigation.
Ironically two years later, the disputed cancer drug was approved after all. 

       It wasn't only business people; it was also Jason Blair, a star writer for
the New York Times who plagiarized.  It was also teachers giving answers to children
for the achievement tests so they would look good as instructors.  I have wondered
if college professors have a share of the responsibility in these scandals.  Are we
doing everything we can to form our students, our future professional people with
integrity?  Do we take advantage of every opportunity to teach integrity and
character?  It should not only be English across the curriculum, not only
quantitative problem solving across the curriculum, but also Ethics across the
curriculum.  If our students are to make a lot of money and reach the top of their
organizations, but achieved all of that in an unethical manner, we have failed.....
especially from the perspective of eternity.

       The Honor System as an Exercise.  I try to do my little part by routinely
putting my students on the honor system during my exams, telling them that this
exam of honor is the most important of all..... "the exam between you, yourself,
and your Creator.  Character is doing what is right when no one is looking.
Integrity is being faithful to one's principles no matter the cost, no matter the
consequences.  Better to obtain an F with honor than an A with shame."  

       One semester, I had to fail four students in my Operations Management class
and two others in my Intro to Business course for cheating on exams and/or homework.
Word for word or the same identical silly math errors and by chance sitting next to
each other or being good friends makes it too obvious.  They meekly accepted it and
I used it as a teaching tool......"better to fail an exam now than to end up in jail
later.  That would be partially my fault.  If you're honest in little things, you'll
never fall into big time corruption."  True, I was flexible and let them do a
considerable quantity of work to obtain a passing grade of D.

       Maybe I come over as preachy, but I don't know any other way.   The Turnitin
program is a help, but is that sufficient?  What are your ideas on how we can be
more effective in the professional formation and what we can do?  One instructor can
do little but something as clumsy as it may be. Together we can do miracles.  Can
athletic coaches and staff people have a role in the professional formation of our
students?  Perhaps we can get a little on-line forum going and
exchange ideas on how we can form our students with integrity and character.   Thank
you all for this opportunity to share and God bless.

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