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Ethics education honored

Joe Trombello | Friday, October 3, 2003

A special section of the Sept. 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal ranked Notre Dame’s MBA program among the nation’s top five for producing ethical graduates. The program tied for fourth place in ethics while the Mendoza College of Business ranked 31st in a survey of nearly 2,200 MBA recruiters.

Yale University came in first place in the Wall Street Journal poll of which graduate schools produced the most ethical students, followed by Brigham Young University and Dartmouth College.

In the article, reporter Ronald Alsop interviewed Carolyn Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business, regarding the program’s position on ethics.

“We must challenge students about how much their values are worth and develop an awareness in them of the ethical implications of business decisions,” Woo said in the article.

As a Catholic University, Notre Dame has always focused on teaching ethics.

According to Mendoza faculty, ethics have been integrated into the business curriculum since the 1970s, well before many other business colleges added ethics courses and requirements in response to recent corporate scandals.

“Today many schools are adding ethics courses, but for Notre Dame, this is nothing new,” said Oliver Williams, associate professor of management. Williams is currently serving as a visiting professor at two South African business schools in Cape Town – the University of Cape Town and Stellenebosch University – where he is helping to develop an ethics program.

Georges Enderle, the Arthur F. and Mary J. O’Neil Professor of International Business Ethics, cited three chief objectives of the ethics component to Notre Dame’s business school curriculum: to raise among students and faculty an awareness of ethics, to provide students with knowledge of ethical theories and concepts and to teach students to learn the “skills of moral judgment.”

“Today, ethical values in business are fundamental,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing, but we have to face that.”

Notre Dame’s two-year MBA program requires its students to take several classes that focus on ethics. Students must take a 1.5 credit class entitled “Conceptual Foundations of Business Ethics” during their first semester, and at least two additional 1.5 credit classes on more specific ethics topics, such as “Marketing Ethics” or “International Business Ethics.”

Enderle says that this configuration ensures a common ethical component as well as more individual choice and depth.

“We want to provide a solid foundation [in ethics] and a deeper analysis,” he said.

Ethics classes frequently use case studies to analyze particular business problems in depth.

Williams cited an example of ethical considerations with respect to agricultural subsidies in Europe, the United States and Asia, which deny poor countries a chance to become competitive in the industry.

Proper consideration of ethics, Williams said, would search for ways to allow countries to become more competitive. In this way, ethics education at Notre Dame explores problems from institutional and systemic perspectives instead of looking at ethics from only an individual point of view.

“It is not enough to look at these issues [of ethics] on the personal level, as important as these are,” Williams said. “We must be concerned with devising strategies which allow the world’s poor to have a better life.”

Enderle said that Notre Dame’s emphasis on ethics could create the possibility for greater interaction and dialogue between scholars across different colleges such as Arts and Letters and Science.

“We have a unique opportunity,” he said. “There are many faculty working in applied ethics. This is a huge potential and we can and should do more.”

The strength of business ethics at Notre Dame does not mean that the college should rest on its laurels, he said.

“We have a reputation of being strong in ethics,” he said. “This is a recognition of what we have done but also a challenge for us that we do more in that direction.”

In addition to its ethics requirement, two on-campus centers, The Institute for Business Ethics Worldwide and the Center for Ethics and Religious Values, allow Notre Dame’s business students and faculty greater exposure to ethical questions through their research and conference sponsorships.