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Mendoza adapts in response to financial crisis

Robert Singer | Thursday, October 29, 2009

Amid widespread scrutiny of corporate management and with the financial collapse in recent memory, the business college is expanding its approach to teaching ethics, Dean of the Mendoza College of Business Carolyn Woo said.

This fall, in addition to offering more courses on ethics and continuing its Executive Integral Leadership program, the College is hosting the annual Berges Lecture Series, which features senior executives speaking about their experiences in the ethical dimensions of business.

“Some colleges have courses in business ethics in their curricula. What’s important to us at Notre Dame is that this be viewed as a way of life, as a cornerstone of what a business education should be,” Leo Burke, Mendoza’s Director of Integral Leadership, said. “In the spirit of the place, through many of our courses and our professors, we want to emphasize this need for ethics.”

The College’s MBA program includes two courses in ethics, one required and one selected from a list of topics like marketing ethics, financial ethics in banking and global sustainability, Professor of Marketing Patrick Murphy said. On the undergraduate level, the College requires students to take a course on ethics and offers several electives on the subject.

Last year, Woo said, the College started offering a course called “Giving Voice to Values,” which gives students the awareness to solve dilemmas revolving around the question, “When you say something is wrong, how do you bring your values into the workplace?” The College also offers a course on “Business on the Front Lines”— described by Woo as an examination of “how to start business for the social good in a war torn country.”

Additionally, the Executive Integral Leadership program will continue to be offered to Executive MBA students and real world executives.

The one-week program, according to Woo, promotes “self-reflection and self-understanding” by helping participants to recognize the disconnect between their values and deeds with the goal of “integrating interior thinking and external actions.”

Woo laid out four specific causes of unethical business behavior, citing the ease with which people can rationalize their actions and highlighting the incentives to record higher profits.

People “go with the flow” or diminish their sense of responsibility for unscrupulous deeds by seeing themselves as part of a larger mechanism beyond their control, view ethical violations as means to a nobler ends, engage in unethical practices because of lax penalties and are pushed to sacrifice their principles with the prospect of enormous gain, Woo said.

Burke discussed the larger causes of ethical breakdowns in business and their significance for a long-term view of the economy.

“On a systemic level, it’s fueled by the need for ongoing economic growth,” he said. “It fuels the question, ‘What levels of economic growth are sustainable environmentally and sustainable in terms of the social good?'”

“At times, we need to look at what more natural rates of growth might be and how we regulate our appetite to concur with these natural rates of growth,” Burke continued. “If you look at high growth rates, it requires more and more consumption and what we’ve see with more and more consumption is that it has led to greater and greater debt and has required more and more extraction of resources from the planet.”

Looking at the short term, Murphy said the business community should “restore the trust of people at large about the financial problems and the problems we were going through a year ago.”

To create a more ethical business environment, Murphy and Woo argued for change among business leaders.

“I think that changes must come from the inside,” Woo said. “Not only can it come but it must come from the inside, because external regulation can never be sufficient.”

Murphy also saw a need for more effective regulation and for society to identify ways for the business community to serve its needs.

“Number two, there is undoubtedly a need for the regulatory community to take a look at how they need to tighten up on a range of standards that prevent excess,” he said. “But even more important, individual citizens in society need to come together to set the parameters on what the role of business should be in the larger society.”