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Teleopathy and the translation of conscience.

TELEOPATHY (THE UNBALANCED PURSUIT OF objectives) can manifest itself in the life of the academy as much as in the life of a corporation. This includes, in the present context, business schools. Like corporations, schools as organizations can forget the purpose of the trip, becoming fixated on goals far from their original missions. In an effort to cultivate donors, high rankings, or tuition dollars, schools of business (among other professional schools) can actually manifest teleopathy while advertising a curriculum that stands for avoiding it!

When the business academy claims to offer knowledge and skill in a certain professional domain--especially ethics--it is reasonable to ask whether such knowledge and skill should be demonstrated not only in the curriculum but modeled by the school as an organization made up of faculty, administration, and students. It is also reasonable to measure the effectiveness of ethics education by asking how much business schools are able to "walk their talk"--to evidence their own abilities to live out the managerial virtues that they would foster in their students. The culture of an academic institution is more than just the curriculum of that institution.

A 2004 AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) task force report is emphatic about the importance of the cultures of business schools:

"Another way students learn about ethical behaviors is through the ethical culture they observe in their respective business schools. Students cannot be expected to internalize the importance of ethics and values unless business schools demonstrate such commitment within their own organizations. This means that business school deans need to think of themselves as ethical leaders who communicate regularly about ethics and values; who model ethical conduct; and who hold community members--faculty, staff, and students--accountable for their actions. Academic policies and systems should clearly be an integral, living part of the school's culture, and not simply a stack of documents in the file drawer."

Business ethics education can only be effective if it is supported widely by the faculty and administration of the school. Responsibility for ethics in the business curriculum must be borne by the entire business faculty, not outsourced or handled by one or two specialists or "gurus." The risk associated with outsourcing (e.g., from a philosophy department) is the same as the risk associated with specialists--compartmentalization. Compartmentalization happens when ethical issues that arise in other parts of the business curriculum are referred to the "experts," sending the wrong message to students as future ethical decision makers.

My former Harvard colleague, John B. Matthews Jr., used to observe that business school faculty carried a powerful "eraser" when it came to the seriousness with which students took ethical considerations in their courses. By this he meant that the work of colleagues committed to ethics in management could be "erased" by quips and body language from instructors in certain "tough-minded" courses who were signaling to their students their belief that ethical decision making in business required a certain "softness" or "sentimentality" Students read more than books and case studies in business school--they read the faculty with great attention.

Emphasis on ethics education must come from the school's leadership, but it must also be built into the hiring, promotion, and other incentive systems of the school. Key faculty resources must be identified to model the desired curricular initiatives, and search committee criteria must include attention to ethics. Regular audits of faculty can ask how ethics is worked into the various core course syllabi. Student course evaluations can include questions about the degree to which a particular course addressed the ethical aspects of the subject matter.

Again, according to the task force report: "AACSB must support and encourage a renaissance in ethics education and exercise its leadership role to ensure the commitment of business schools. We must strengthen ethics components of our curricula in all disciplines to emphasize the importance of individual integrity and corporate responsibility to business success. We must offer courses that introduce ethical frameworks to help challenge students to resolve business and managerial problems; courses that lay out the larger societal context in which business operates; and seminars and workshops that bring executives to campus to focus on the link between leadership and values. We must work to build a community of scholars and students in which ethical principles are not platitudes, but reality."

Just as we remind our students that their management education does not end with a degree or a diploma, we must remind ourselves that education in ethical awareness must continue and be strengthened over time. This means not only that faculty and administrators need continuing education and outside speakers but also that faculty need to be supported in research and case writing on the ethical aspects of their respective specialties.

If ethics is not woven into the fabric of business education (and I am talking about more than simply the addition of a course), the business academy runs the risk of encouraging (rather than discouraging) teleopathy in its hidden curriculum (the curriculum that often forms the philosophical outlook of the graduates). Schools speak not only by the way in which they make decisions generally but also by the way in which they design priorities into their curricula. Silence can be an eloquent teacher. Eventually, of course, the business school passes the baton of ethics education to a second academy: the corporation itself.

By Kenneth Goodpaster, Koch Endowed Chair, University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business (Minn.)
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Title Annotation:THE State OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Author:Goodpaster, Kenneth
Publication:University Business
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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