Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Limits of Business Ethics

One thing going in my academic life while I wasn't posting has been work related to reconceptualizing our university's general education curriculum. We've always had a liberal arts and science "core," though it has dwindled in credit hours over the years. Right now, students must take two introductory-level humanities courses (two courses chosen from among English, fine arts, history, STS, and philosophy). Right, it's not much. In our new curriculum, any department, anywhere in the university, can apply to teach a course in the arts and science core. And the business college has decided that their business ethics course ought to count.

Many, many arguments have been constructed, dressed, gussied up, rearranged, and presented to the committee made up of people from all over the university, most of them with no background in liberal arts or sciences, to explain why this is a bad idea. What amazes me, though, is that the quality of arguments don't seem to matter to the committee nearly so much as the...well...the marketing. But isn't that the point?

The business college has resorted to constructing case studies to show why it's so important to teach ethics to their students their way. Imagine, they say, that someone is asked by her employer to do something immoral and illegal, but her job or her raise or her bonus hinge on it. She has a lot to consider! It's not easy to think through the ethics of such cases!

After watching Inside Job, I don't doubt that there is a need for ethics education in business, finance, and accounting. I do doubt whether it can come from inside.

And there is the recent case of the LaSalle University professor who somehow worked strippers and lap dances into an extra credit class meeting for a business ethics class. One wonders: bad egg, or just positioned at one end of a spectrum?

1 comment:

Egbert B. Gebstadter said...

At the University of Illinois, our former president B. Joseph White was forced to step down after being embroiled in an admissions scandal (apparently there was a "clout list" giving preferential treatment to politically connected applicants).

I hear that he now gets $300,000/year to teach Business Ethics. (I wasn't able to verify that directly -- apparently we have no course specifically by that name -- but the anecdote is too good not to pass on.)