Successful businesses can also be ethical ones

By Finley

Public perception of business as “bad,” however disappointing to free market proponents and business professors, is not surprising.

Enron. WorldCom. Madoff. HealthSouth — huge cases of corporate and public corruption — fill the media. Political pundits and candidate campaigns often indict business as “evil” in their rhetoric. Examples of greed plant seeds of skepticism about business leaders’ motives.

In such a climate, it is useful for the public to be aware of the deliberate role higher education in business takes in teaching that successful business can be ethical business, and in preparing ethical future business leaders.

For years, colleges and universities have embraced that role. The effort continues and evolves, and is worthy of public note.

Impetus and strategies to improve business ethics teaching and learning are driven by multiple factors.

First, empirical studies show that students may not understand how widespread and serious ethical questions are in the business environment. Without training, they are unprepared for the tensions of complex ethical dilemmas. Those dilemmas extend beyond relationships and pervade decisions of what we produce, market, use, and discard — in other words, decisions about resources.

Second, business schools granted specialized accreditation are teaching business ethics and evaluating associated student learning outcomes, as required by their accrediting associations. For example, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs specifies at least 30 hours of instruction in ethics, either through a dedicated course, or ethics topics coverage included as elements of other courses, or a combination of both.

Third, there is a growing body of knowledge about business ethics instruction. As a legitimate area for research, some very good writing is coming out of scholarly activity by business faculty. Professional associations, such as the Society for Business Ethics, support and encourage such efforts.

Expected results are that business school graduates understand that laws and internal controls are inadequate by themselves to assure ethical conduct; that conflicts of interest abound in the business world; that ethical issues are complex and call for principled, informed analysis; that they should ascertain that their personal ethics and their employer’s ethics are in alignment; and that they should do something about it when they become aware of an ethical issue.

Faith-based colleges and universities are positioned to take business ethics education a step further. Christian schools can foster a self-understanding of the future business leader, that resources do not belong to him or her, but rather to God. Therefore, a particular stewardship on the part of the leader is expected.

For example, in the University of Mobile School of Business, issues of the integration of faith and business are openly discussed in classes. A business ethics course is required in the bachelor of science and master of business administration programs. Christian business leaders are invited to share their insights and experiences in the school’s Christians in the Marketplace program series.

As a result, University of Mobile students attest that they believe they are prepared to apply a Christian worldview to ethical dilemmas in the workplace, and to take action where appropriate as steward leaders.


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