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Let your life speak; teaching ethics in business.

There's an old Quaker saying that states: "Let your life speak," says Peter Smith of Earlham College in Richmond. "It's fun to see how the kids resonate to that."

Earlham comes by business ethics training honestly, Smith says, adding that "the Quaker tradition is very much concerned with ethical issues."

Ethics is infused into the Earlham curriculum, both on the liberal arts and management sides of the fence. Earlham tells its students that ethical behavior in both business and life can sometimes be a rocky road.

"How do you have an ethical persuasion when dealing with folks who don't have the same ethical persuasion?" Smith asks.

Len Clark, Earlham's provost and academic dean, notes that the infusion of ethics into the curriculum is "a special responsibility." But he hastens to add that the college doesn't beat its students over the head with ethics.

"We're in the business of trying to reinforce and build the self-confidence of people rather than to teach them how to do things," Clark says. That reinforcement comes from example, from a college whose "roots are in a value tradition."

Under the Golden Dome at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Father Oliver Williams, the university's associate provost, notes that ethics "is not considered a trendy thing here. Notre Dame has had ethics as long as Notre Dame has been here."

Williams, who teaches one section of the "Business, Government and Society" course that is required for all business students, says the course is, in fact, a survey of business ethics.

"The class typically consists of a lecture for half the time and a case discussion for the second half," he explains. "We give them a conceptual framework, then there's a case to be prepared, a real-life situation, so they can learn to apply the concepts."

The case discussions encourage students to view business decisions from a variety of viewpoints. "If you were Mr. Brown making a decision for a company, what would you do and why? If you were someone in the community, how would you look at it? Most of these cases are fairly complicated, so there may be more than one right answer," he says.

Notre Dame requires that undergraduates take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology. "Students in business administration are asked to take at least one of those four courses with an ethics framework," Williams says. He also notes that ethics instruction is integrated into functional business areas, including management, marketing, accounting and finance.

At St. Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, there isn't a separate ethics course in the business curriculum, says D.J. Wosmer, chair of the college's business department. Instead, the teaching of ethics is integrated across the broad spectrum of the business curriculum.

"It's viewed as part of doing business," Wosmer explains. "For example, there's a marketing ethics reading in every chapter of the text for the course 'Principles in Marketing.'" Such messages reach a large portion of the students at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, because the business department is the largest on campus.

The small liberal arts college recently received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to study environmental ethics, Wosmer adds. "How we treat the environment is an ethical and social responsibility issue."

Because of the religious tradition of many of Indiana's liberal arts colleges, ethics has been emphasized literally from the beginning. At Grace College in Winona Lake, near Warsaw in Northeastern Indiana, ethical issues "basically work across the spectrum of our curriculum," says Ronald Manahan, college provost.

A two-year preparatory school for seminary students from 1948 to 1954, and a four-year liberal arts college since then, Grace College graduates about 35 business students each year.

"Personal and corporate integrity were always an issue here," Manahan says, "since day one of the institution."

Grace College undertook an ethics initiative in the mid-1980s, an initiative that has since "become the basis of our instructional assessment program," Manahan notes. He says the college admits students who have a faith commitment to a biblical perspective.

The college, he continues, is committed to that kind of faith perspective, and its task is "how to work that out in the ebb and flow of the instructional experience."
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Author:Beck, Bill
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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