Conflict of interest. Whistle-blowing. Insider trading. Theft. Discrimination. Falsifying records. Lying. How a company uses your personal information.
Those are just a few examples of things that may involve business ethics violations.
Discussing any of those topics will likely lead to robust discussions in a college ethics course, which in turn helps students understand the importance of having sound ethics throughout their careers. The topic is so important that the Ivy College of Business now requires all undergraduates to take a business ethics course before graduating. Now that the course has been required for more than a year, students, faculty, and leaders reflect on what this course means for business students.
“I’m glad this is a required course,” said Chris Smith, a senior in entrepreneurship from Waterloo, Iowa. “I’m learning a lot about ethics and the importance of running a business ethically. There are a lot of businesses running their operations the wrong way, and that can hurt the overall brand.”
Ethical behavior tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity, and individual rights, according to BusinessDictionary, an online reference resource for business professionals and higher education audiences.
In business ethics, students explore right and wrong behavior in the business world.
At the request of Raisbeck Endowed Dean David Spalding, Brad Shrader, the Eucher Faculty Fellow in Business and University Professor of Management, led a task force in 2015 that was charged with assessing both the state of ethics training and the issue of academic integrity for undergraduate students.
After months of discussions, and reviewing other academic programs, a recommendation was made to add a new course that focuses on business ethics.
The course, Management 372: Responsible Management and Leadership in Business, became a required course in fall 2017. At the time, business students were required to take only one course in philosophy that taught ethics but was not focused solely on business ethics. They are still required to take that course along with the new business course.
“We absolutely see the value in students taking Philosophy 230,” Spalding said. “We just feel an additional course with a focus on business ethics would better prepare them for their careers.”
The new business course, first offered as an experimental elective, offers more than lessons on ethics.
“In a way, we’re not teaching ethics. We’re teaching management and leadership,” Shrader said. “If you think about it, there are a ton of really good examples in the news every day, such as employee safety, employee privacy. Then you get to the bigger issues like corporate responsibilities to communities, the environment, and sustainability.”
Students in Management 372 may study relatively new companies such as Uber.
“We could talk about what a great business model it is, how popular it is, how it might disrupt public transportation, and maybe make things more efficient,” Shrader explained. “Maybe it reduces congestion and pollution, and those are good things.”
Those are excellent topics for discussion for business students.
“That is the beauty of this,” said Shrader, who developed and taught a required MBA ethics course. “We can look at these examples and talk about, as a manager, how could you make things better? What would you do?” So many headlines in the news point out a variety of unethical behavior in the world of business, industry, and other organizations. That’s why business students are required to learn about ethics specific to business. The goal is to help them avoid such scenarios in their careers.
“This is an amazing course,” said Senior Lecturer of Management Ellen Mullen, who is currently teaching three sections of the course. “It’s timely, and it’s important.” Many businesses are improving their efforts with regard to ethical decisions.
“I absolutely believe that. People today expect businesses to be ethical. They are being held accountable,” Mullen said. Like most higher education institutions, the Ivy College of Business has advisory councils to help guide the college and its departments so they stay connected to the needs of business and industry. These councils include professionals from a variety of areas in business and industry.
“We rely on their feedback and expertise as we develop or change our curriculum,” said Professor of Management and Department of Management Chair Pol Herrmann. “This was something our advisory council members supported, and we listened to their valuable feedback,” said Herrmann, who is also the John and Deborah Ganoe Professor in Business.
According to John Watt, course coordinator for Management 372, “Most business schools don’t offer a stand-alone ethics course,and the minority that do typically only offer it as an elective course. It’s a significant value for our students that the Ivy College of Business has committed resources to offer a stand-alone ethical leadership course. Fundamentally, leadership has a moral dimension, and being a leader demands awareness on our students’ part of the way their ethics define their roles in the world. The Ivy College of Business continues to distinguish itself by recognizing the value of ethics education and training for all of our students.”
Student insights into ethics course
Chris Smith, Waterloo, Iowa
Senior in entrepreneurship
What Chris Smith likes most about the ethics course is that it trains him to think about deep issues. Part of their required reading in Management 372 is Conscious Capitalism, by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, marketing professor at Bentley University.
In that book, the authors ask what Starbucks, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Amazon.com, UPS, Whole Foods Market, and Costco have in common. They all practice “conscious capitalism,” an evolving paradigm for business that simultaneously creates multiple kinds of value and well-being for all stakeholders. This new operating system for business is in far greater harmony with the ethos of our times and the essence of our evolving beings, the authors wrote.
That resonated with Smith. “I don’t want to go through life on auto-fill,” he said. “I encourage all of us to think about this because it may impact our buying choices.”
Cameron Leith, Creston, Iowa
Junior in finance
“I’ve always looked at ethics and viewed it as an emotional reaction, but this class provides a logical perspective of ethics in business, and I find that very interesting.”
Leith, who has an internship this
summer with Bankers Trust, said the required ethics course will help shape his view of businesses in general, and also his internship with the bank. “This gives me an opportunity to see their values and ethics as a company, and I can see if that aligns with mine,” he said. “This course gives us all an opportunity to see ethics in business before we are faced with making the right decision in the real world. If we don’t have a glimpse of this, we may be more prone to making the wrong decisions.”