Q&A: David Mielke on business ethics as Eastern Michigan University concludes 5th annual Ethos Week
Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business hosted its fifth annual Ethos Week last week, when it highlighted its effort to integrate business ethics across the college and its courses.
EMU is still the only university in the U.S. to encourage business ethics in this manner. AnnArbor.com Business News Director Paula Gardner recently spoke with David Mielke, dean of the EMU COB, about the events and how they fit into business education.
AnnArbor.com: We hear about business ethics, then we don’t. How cyclical is the need to drive ethics in the business world?
Mielke: If it’s been cyclical, the cycles have been awfully short. We continue to see examples of ethical lapses on a regular basis. It hasn’t been that absent in headlines for any extended period of time. We see business people who don’t follow any type of ethical principles.
I think it needs attention on an ongoing basis. That’s what we’ve been trying to establish here — a culture based on ethics and values, so it isn’t hit and miss. I needs to be reinforced and have constant reminders.
So even after all of the obvious ethical lapses that came to light in the financial meltdown, we’ve realized no true change. How do you fight that?
The way we look at the change is that you convert one person at a time. (At Eastern Michigan University during Ethos Week,) not every one of the students who’s going to sign our ethos banner is going to be converted or necessarily convinced that following ethical principles is what they’re going to do. I just think that there’s a slow process.
What kinds of experiences are your students having that expose them to unethical behavior in the business world?
I don’t think students necessarily have seen a lot of unethical situations. More what I’m seeing is an appreciation for what a set of values can do for them. I see it to some extent when I hear students email me or email faculty when they notice someone cheating on an exam or plagiarizing on a paper — I’m seeing a much stronger reaction from students. It bothers them when they see students cheating.
How has the EMU business curriculum changed since you started Ethos Week?
The curriculum hasn’t really changed. It started with the faculty initiating it — they felt it was very important foundation.
The Ethos Statement is attached to every course that’s taught. That’s the major change that’s occurred. It gets reinforced every semester in every course. That’s the major change.
Then it’s reinforced by having Ethos Week, where everybody focuses on the importance of ethics by the time they move into the business world. That’s a huge difference from how we used to just have a standalone course.
Is that enough?
It’s reinforced, so I think students really have a strong exposure to it and understanding of the importance. Whether or not they actually practice it, that’s another story. They do see it emphasized for four years.
What’s your closest brush with unethical behavior?
It goes back to my working life before (academia). I worked for a family-owned business, and the owner had a number of expenses he wanted to wash through the company. I kept a list and I always objected, and he always told me to do it. I eventually left.
Are certain fields more vulnerable?
No, I don’t think so. I think it can happen in any industry. It’s based on the people involved it just seems to happen without any specifics.
What would the world be like if businesses were more ethical?
It’s interesting when you hear people talk about doing business with a handshake. Now a contract has to be 20 to 30 pages long.
I’d like to think that we could get somewhat back to not making deals with a handshake, but certainly with a lot more confidence and trust that everything doesn’t have to be in writing — and that when people say they’re going to do something, they do it.