Ethics Education

College and university business schools in four western states, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, have integrated principle-based ethics teaching into their classes, using grant funding from the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative. Some if not all of the schools incorporate community outreach efforts into their programs as well, because the Daniels Fund considers involvement of the business community to be an important component of learning.

Principle-based ethical behavior is based on one’s principles or values and on personal responsibility, rather than on adherence to rules. This is not to say that policies, procedures, and rules or guidelines are not valuable; they are. But principle-based educational efforts strive to teach students to think through ethical dilemmas, to understand the values that underlie various possible responses to such dilemmas, to understand the justification for such responses, and to make thoughtful decisions rooted in their principles and values.

Schools teach principle-based ethics by integrating ethics into graduate and undergraduate classes in all business disciplines, in a variety of ways. They also train faculty on how to teach ethics, host public events, engage “champions” to support inter- and intra-campus efforts, and share curriculums and materials. Many of these kinds of efforts could be adapted for use by businesses and other institutions.

For example, New Mexico State University (NMSU) College of Business uses a combination of case studies, learning modules, activities, and guest speakers to integrate ethics principles into its classes. Through these efforts, students are exposed to “multi-faceted issues of ethical leadership and professionalism.”

NMSU’s neighbor to the north, the University of New Mexico (UNM), offers similar programs for its students and for the community. A few months ago it sponsored a talk by Andrew Faslow, former CFO of Enron, who spoke about the how and why Enron officials made the poor ethical decisions that they did. For more on that talk, see Ethical Advocate’s “You Need Whistleblowers.” Continuing its outreach to the business community, UNM is introducing an online certificate program called “Business Ethics: Education and Organizational Best Practices.”

As part of its principle-based ethics approach, the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS) has identified 20 “Ethics Faculty Fellows” to champion ethics within the College of Business and beyond, and to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices.

Businesses and other institutions can adapt many of these approaches for use in their own ethics programs. For example, case studies, short learning modules, ethics-related activities, and even talks by guest speakers are all good ways to share the ethics message, and can be especially effective when used in combination. In addition, an intensive program like UNM’s best practices certificate program could be offered to ethics officers and other managers or supervisors as a way to build awareness and skills. Finally, businesses recognize the value of champions in getting things done. Perhaps its time to consider enlisting a cadre of ethics champions knowledge, experiences, and best practices throughout the organization, in the UCCS mold.

Local businesses can also partner with local educational institutions to support ethics initiatives. Principle-based ethics education is becoming a part of the curriculum at a number of colleges and universities. The examples addressed above are representative; each school and its business partners will have their own approach. Whatever the approach, students exposed to these programs will be entering the workforce with a heightened awareness of ethical issues, to the benefit of their future employers.

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Contact us for more information.

Related Reading:

Bradford, Amanda. “Daniels Fund Renews NMSU Ethics Initiative with Infusion of Additional $1.25M.” NMSU News, December 9, 2014.

Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Principles.

UNM Anderson School of Management. “Business Ethics:  Education and Organizational Best Practices.”