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Ethics and Enron

By Skip Tate

As the smoke still rises from the collapse of Enron Corp.—a meltdown sparked by a series of unethical and misguided practices—University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., made one thing clear to the faculty of the Williams College of Business recently: teaching ethics is good business.

 

Graham addressed the college’s faculty at a gathering in the Conaton Board Room organized by the college’s newly created center for business ethics and social responsibility. The center was formed in November as one of the college’s strategic initiatives. Its purpose is to encourage faculty to integrate ethical questions and issues into their classes, and to provide funding for faculty to attend ethics conferences and to bring ethics experts to speak on campus. The meltdown of Enron came after the formation of the center, but is providing great teaching examples for the college’s faculty and made for a fitting backdrop for Graham’s talk.

The teaching of ethics is not something that should be added onto the curriculum through a class or two, Graham said, but should be something woven into the fabric of the University’s curriculum. By the time a student graduates, he should have a thick stack of ethics-related material that he’s culled from a wide range of classes during his academic career.

 

“There are three things the University does well—and it’s paramount it keeps doing well,” he said. “They are offering academic rigor, providing personal care and interaction—that is, compassion—with the students, and bringing attention to the question of values. What the University can do that others can’t in a powerful way is to teach students that the questions of ethics and values will crop up in their daily lives, and that they need to think and deal with them.”

 

The best way to form better and more successful business people, Graham told the business faculty, is to form better people. By teaching such material through multiple exposures at the core level and integrating it into a student’s basic education, faculty can then shape, sharpen and tune those teachings.

 

“What we really need to realize is we are in the business of creating leaders,” he said. “Not just men and women who do something for a living, but who do something with their lives. Not every student is going to be the best in accounting, but as long as he goes along in his career and is more and more apt to be active in his community, that is precisely the kind of student we want here at Xavier.”

 

By doing these things, he said, the University will thereby live up to its mission, and will achieve its goals from the market perspective as well. When the market looks at the University and compares it to others in the area, he said, the elements of ethics and values within the curriculum and the impact they have on the type of student who graduates from here should be what makes the University stand apart.

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