Eastern Michigan University 'Ethos Week' should be challenge to business world to cultivate ethics
What choices have you made recently that has given you a twinge of conscience? What are the values upon which you draw to make your ethical decisions? Are your ethical principles a result of what you learned at home or as a result of your formal education or experience in the business world?
We read the headlines that generate ethical questions: Wikileaks, ear marks, excessive executive bonuses, mortgage foreclosures, insider trading. On what basis do we determine whether the decisions were ethical?
Ethics are based on a set of values — often personal in nature — learned throughout your lifetime. Your environment can influence those values and examples set by leaders. As such, business schools must play a key role in helping to reduce or eliminate unethical behavior at the business, civic, governmental and corporate levels.
After all, many of the executives involved with recent improprieties graduated with a business degree. We accomplish this by instilling lasting ethical values in our future leaders while they prepare for their careers.
Most undergraduate and graduate business programs include ethics in the curriculum. These programs use two approaches to teaching the topic: Some have a single course devoted to ethics, and others integrate ethical issues throughout the curriculum.
There is a debate as to the most effective approach, and even the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the international accrediting organization, does not specify how ethics are to be taught. One requirement is to include ethics in the curriculum.
Neither approach goes far enough in addressing the issue.
The solution is integrating ethics throughout the entire curriculum and developing a business school culture of ethics.
With this goal in mind, faculty members in the Eastern Michigan University College of Business have developed an “Ethos statement” to promote ethics and values as characteristic of both the professional environment of the college and of the business world for which the students are being prepared.
Every business faculty member places the statement on every syllabus for every course offered. Many invest a portion of the course’s first day discussing the statement.
This is not an ethics statement. An ethos statement is the combination of the distinguishing character, beliefs, values and nature of the institution. The concept is broader than ethics, which is usually defined as the principles of conduct and behavior. It is all about developing a culture.
For the fifth consecutive year, our college will sponsor the only “Ethos Week” of any business school in the country. This year’s will be held March 14-18.
Business leaders will speak on ethics topics related to such disciplines as accounting, marketing, law, health care and human resources. At the end of the week, students, faculty, alumni and business people will be inducted into the “Ethos Honor Society,” developed by the college’s students to provide a professional community centered on their adoption of the Ethos statement and its principles.
Each society member will have an “EHS” pin as a reminder of his or her commitment. The result is an increased integration of ethical education to incorporate not just courses or parts of courses, but the environment and culture of the business school.
We urge all business schools — and business, civic and corporate leaders — to follow our lead in truly living, learning and practicing ethical behavior. If our country is to successfully deal with the difficult economic and business challenges facing us today, we must remember ethics isn’t just a set of rules on the books — it needs to be lived and practiced every day.
You are invited to attend the presentations during Ethos Week. It is the right thing to do.
David Mielke is dean of Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business. The college is recognized as “Innovative, Applied and Global.” The full schedule for Ethos Week can be found at www.cob.emich.edu. Mielke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.