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On the evening of Friday, August 11, 2017 a group of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia’s grounds.  Over the next days a group of white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and militias marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia chanting racist and anti-semitic slogans, carrying semi-automatic rifles, swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic banners.   This “Unite the Right Rally” proved to be a catalyst for a horrific 24 hours that would come to be seen by the nation and world as a day of racial rage, hate, violence and death.

Many in the U.S. business community have responded to condemn these events.   Three responses are shown below:

“Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs. America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
Ken Frazier, CEO Merck

“We are saddened by #Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity.”
Kevin Plank, CEO Under Armour

“There should be no hesitation in condemning hate speech or white supremacy by name. #Intel asks all our countries leadership to do the same. I stand with others for equality and improving US competitiveness. Both require improving in today’s environment.”
Brian Krzanich, CEO Intel

There is no place for racism, bigotry or discrimination in our great country.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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coca_2824997Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with several professors who teach business ethics.   I have taught at a university where a program was developed to teach ethical reasoning to all university students.   I have co-written a peer reviewed journal article on ethical issues associated with online marketing.    Today, at my university have a veteran faculty member who does an outstanding job of engaging business students in the ethical issues of our day.   Yet, I continue to be plagued by the inherent inconsistencies between pedagogical intent and actual student learning outcomes in the teaching of ethics.    I would like to share two specific stories which highlight my point.

Story One:   “Stealing from the Soda Vending Machine”

Several years ago I was co-teaching a leadership class with a fellow faculty member.   In the class, he motivated the importance of teaching ethics by sharing a story about students stealing soda cans from a university vending machine.    Specifically,  he severely criticized the ethical behavior of students for taking soda cans from a soda machine after the machine dispensed several cans after a student only paid for one can.    After class, I questioned the professor by saying the ethics of the situation could depend on the situation that led to the vending machine dispensing the cans (i.e.  Did the machine sometimes take money and not return any cans? or Had students contacted the owner of the machine and received an unsatisfactory reply?).    From the point of the view of the professor, it was simply wrong to ‘steal’ a can of soda and the students were in the wrong.

I was not satisfied with the professor’s reply.    What did I do?   I googled “vending machine ethics” and found a wonderful lesson in ethics from  Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz.    He tells a wonderful tale of ethics, based on Jewish law, that describes the process by which the vending machine customer should evaluate the situation and respond.      As you read the Rabbi’s response, you will see that the response is not as easy as “right” and “wrong”.   See: Hilchos Choshen Mishpat, Volume II, Number 4: Money Extracted From A Vending Machine.

This episode left me puzzled by the business professor’s approach to ethics and his apparent unwillingness to examine the complexity of an interesting ethical dilemma.

 Story Two:   “The Ethics of Uber”

At a recent conference for academic deans, a distinguished professor of business ethics from a major university made a presentation on the importance of teaching ethics in the business curriculum.   She immediately motivated her discussion by launching into a diatribe on the unethical behavior of Uber.      More specifically, she unequivocally stated that Uber was unethical for circumventing taxi cab laws and for treating their employees as contract employees.    After her presentation was over, I gently discussed the notion that nearly all of the tech giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, etc.) pushed ethical boundaries and that ultimately there are ethical arguments that can be made pro and con for different business practices and that ultimately these boundaries will be settled in a court of law.    The ethics professor would have none of this – Uber was clearly a business engaged in unethical business practices.    There was no gray in her position.

I later learned that the business ethics professor specialized in labor law.      This troubled me.     From my perspective she was viewing an ethical issue solely from a legal perspective and did not consider the issue from different perspectives.      See: “Ethically, is Uber a better choice than a taxi?”.  Most troubling was that she did this in front of a group of deans – none of whom seemed to be particularly bothered by her analysis.

Conclusion

Why do business ethics professors seem to view complex ethical situations through a black and white lense?    This is troubling.   Few ethical dilemmas have simple solutions.      By presenting these cases as examples of bad behavior as opposed to examples of ethical decision making, they do their students a great disservice.    From my perspective, both of these professors ultimately force our students to rely exclusively on the law and they do little to advance the importance of ethical decision making.    What are your thoughts?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Mission-300x221Following is a homework assignment that I used with undergraduate students in a leadership development class in our honors program.  The novelty to the assignment was having students work on their resume at the same time they worked on their personal mission statement.  The result was students putting much thought into how their career path would align with personal goals and values.  The students found this exercise to be very rewarding.  Here is the assignment:

TO:  Honors 101 Students

FROM:  Dr. Percy Trappe

RE:  Assignment #2 – Personal Mission Statement and Resume

DATE:  August 28, 2013

The first step in your “leadership journey” is to reflect on what you have accomplished and what would you like to become.   In this exercise you will develop/update your resume (accomplishments) and will develop a first draft of a personal mission statement.

Resume: Submit a one page resume.  A resume is one of the tools you will need to introduce yourself and your experience to employers. It provides prospective employers with their first impression of you-it is an advertisement about you. Your resume is your chief marketing tool in the job search process. Therefore, your resume should be well-organized and highlight your background by emphasizing your skills and qualifications.   Be sure to emphasize your accomplishments.  For guidelines and examples on creating an effective resume be sure to see “Writing an Effective Resume” (http://career.ucsd.edu/undergraduates/prepar-resume-covlet/writing-effective-resume.html)

Personal Mission Statement: Submit a personal mission statement.  Your personal mission statement focuses on:

  1. What you want to be (character)
  2. What you want to do (contributions and achievements)
  3. Principles upon which “being” and “doing” are based

Your mission statement should be no more than one page in length.  In addition, to the mission statement itself, you should submit an “Explanation of My Mission Statement” where you summarize two things: (1) describe the process you used to develop your mission statement, and (2) describe how the three elements of the personal mission statement have been integrated into your final product.

Some resources to help you construct a personal mission statement:

Due Date:  Thursday, September 5, 2013

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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us versus them

Which way? Of course – “Us”!

I just got out of a faculty meeting.    It turns out that we have an “Us” vs “Them” department head in one of our academic programs – a university department head who generates intense loyalty on the part of his own faculty, but who creates much ill will with faculty and administrators across the college and the campus.

On the one hand, the faculty in his department have the following to say:

  • “How can we possibly move forward without him as our department head?”
  • “He is the reason why I come to work each day.”
  • “He makes this a safe place to work.”
  • “He is our irreplaceable leader.”
  • “Please ask him to not quit.”

What do you think?   Is this a healthy relationship between faculty and department head?    It all depends who you ask.

On the other hand, our “Us” vs. “Them” department head was generally viewed unfavorably across the college and across the campus.   Why?    Here are some examples:

  • He led an effort to “declare war” on other department’s faculty when they gave academic advice to “our students”.
  • He “declared war” on the college administrators when they allowed other departments to schedule student events that conflicted with events in “his” program.
  • He has led a relentless campaign to convince the world that his faculty were underpaid and overworked.     This is a consistent theme with anyone who will listen.   As a result he actively encouraged his faculty to ‘boycott’ college and university activities that weren’t part of the annual faculty contract.  (FYI – his faculty are among the highest paid on campus and are at or above benchmark standards for similar schools.)
  • He has let it be known that he sabotaged the search for a faculty hire in his department because the Dean, in his opinion, had not allocated sufficient funds for the position.
  • He will tell anyone that will listen “The Dean cannot fire me because no one else in my department will take the department head job – too much work and not enough pay.”

From where I sit, this is an unfortunate situation.   Here we have a very talented individual who achieves department level success through “Us vs. Them”.   Frankly, it is quite interesting to see how this approach can be effective in building team cohesion and loyalty.    From a higher level perspective,  I can assure you that this is destructive behavior for both the faculty and the department as a whole.     More on this later ……    Your thoughts?

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

 

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Dwight Eisenhower at Columbia University

Columbia University President: Dwight Eisenhower

Below is a list of famous non-living U.S. university or college presidents followed by a brief biography for each.

  1. Dwight Eisenhower (president of Columbia University from 1948 – 1953).  Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first Supreme Commander of NATO while still serving as president at Columbia University.
  2. Woodrow Wilson (president of Princeton University from 1902 – 1910).    Thomas Woodrow Wilson served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Wilson earned a Ph.D in political science, working as a professor and scholar at various institutions before being chosen as President of Princeton University, where he worked from 1902 to 1910. In 1910 he was elected the 34th Governor of New Jersey, serving from 1911 to 1913. As President, Wilson was a leading force in the Progressive Movement, bolstered by his Democratic Party’s winning control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.

    Princeton University President: Woodrow Wilson

    Princeton University President: Woodrow Wilson (1902)

  3. Joshua Chamberlain (president of Bowdoin College from 1871 – 1883).    Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain was an American college professor from the State of Maine, who volunteered during the American Civil War to join the Union Army. Although having no earlier education in military strategies, he became a highly respected and decorated Union officer, reaching the rank of brigadier general (and brevet major general). For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, he served four one-year terms of office as the 32nd Governor of Maine. He served on the faculty, and as president, of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.   [see blog post “Joshua Chamberlain – When the Soul Overmasters Sense“]
  4. Robert E. Lee (president of Washington & Lee University from 1865 – 1870; superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy from 1852 – 1855).   Robert E. Lee  was an American soldier known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865.  Lee was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years.  Lee transformed Washington College into a leading Southern college expanding its offerings significantly and added programs in commerce, journalism, and integrated the Lexington Law School. Lee was well liked by the students, which enabled him to announce an “honor system” like West Point’s, explaining “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman.”
  5. William Tecumseh Sherman (first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy which would later become Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1860 – 1861).  Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator and author. He served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–65), for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the “scorched earth” policies that he implemented in conducting total war against the Confederate States.  [see blog post  “Yankee President, Southern University: William Tecumseh Sherman at Louisiana State University (LSU)“].
  6. James Garfield (president of Hiram College from 1857 – 1860).  Garfield was the 20th President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881 until his assassination later that year. Garfield had served nine terms in the House of Representatives, and had been elected to the Senate before his candidacy for the White House.
  7. Millard Fillmore (chancellor of the University of Buffalo from 1846- 1874).   Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States (1850–1853), the last Whig president, and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties.  As Zachary Taylor’s vice president, he assumed the presidency after Taylor’s death. Fillmore was a lawyer from western New York state, and an early member of the Whig Party. He served in the state legislature (1829–1831), as a U.S. Representative (1833–1835, 1837–1843), and as New York State Comptroller (1848–1849).  Fillmore founded the University at Buffalo and was the university’s first chancellor.
  8. Thomas Jefferson (rector of the University of Virginia from 1819 – 1826).   Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809).    In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He initiated and organized the legislative campaign for its charter and with the assistance of Edmund Bacon, procured and purchased the location. Jefferson was the principal designer of the buildings. Their innovative design was an expression of his aspirations for both state-sponsored education and an agrarian democracy in the new Republic. He also planned the University’s curriculum and served as the first rector. Upon its opening in 1825, it was the first university to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. With no campus chapel included in the original plans, the university was notable for being centered about a library rather than a church, reinforcing the principle of separation of church and state.
  9. James Madison (rector of the University of Virginia from 1826 – 1836).   Madison was an American statesman, political theorist, and the fourth President of the United States (1809–17). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights.

It is interesting to note that only one individual on this list earned a Ph.D. – Woodrow Wilson earned a Ph.D. in 1886 from Johns Hopkins University.

Who is missing from this list?    Please leave a comment if you are aware of additional “famous, non-living” U.S. university presidents.    Thank you!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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squareWhat words of wisdom could Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and the founder and CEO of Square,  possibly have for the academic dean?   In a National Public Radio interview with Kai Ryssdal on May 21, 2015, Dorsey discussed his management style.    In particular, he discussed a management style similar to my own.   One where people and their ideas are highly-valued, one where decision-making is pushed closer to the stakeholder, and one where organizational leadership is key.   Following is a quote from the interview with Jack Dorsey:

I say that if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure. (That’s) because I don’t have the same context as someone who is working day to day with the data, with the understanding of the customer. I definitely see the organization and the people in it as the ones to make the decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.

How many academic leaders can honestly agree with a management philosophy where “my job is to make sure that decisions get made” and where “there is an organizational failure if I am making the decisions”?  I would like to re-frame Jack Dorsey’s quote to make it applicable in a university setting:

I say that if a provost, dean or department head has to make a decision affecting academic program curriculum, the university has an organizational failure. This is because the provost, dean or department head does not have the same context as someone who is working day to day with an understanding of the students and the expected learning outcomes of the academic program.  The provost, dean or department head should definitely see the university and the faculty in it as the ones to make the curricular decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.  (quote: Dr. Percy Trappe)

What do you think?   Does this ring true?  Is this your experience?   I would suggest that department heads, deans and provosts have much to learn from Jack Dorsey.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe   

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logobigLinus Torvalds would seem an unlikely person to shed light on the role of academic Dean.    Torvalds was the initital creator of the Linux kernel that has become the most popular kernel for operating systems.  Today he is the chief architect of the Linux kernel and acts as the project’s coordinator.     Today hundreds of millions of computers, smartphones and embedded processors run Linux.   Beyond being the driving force behind a single software product, Torvalds is generally credited with popularlizing open-source software (OSS) and open-source software development methodologies.

It is Torvalds’s perspective on the open-source software development process that I believe has a parallel in academic leadership.   Following is a quote from Torvalds in a 2012 interview with Scott Merrill from “Tech Cruch”.

I like the *process*. I like writing software. I like trying to make things work better. In many ways, the end result is unimportant – it’s really just the excuse for the whole experience. It’s why I started Linux to begin with – sure, I kind of needed an OS, but I needed a *project* to work on more than I needed the OS.

In fact, to get a bit “meta” on this issue, what’s even more interesting than improving a piece of software, is to improve the *way* we write and improve software. Changing the process of making software has sometimes been some of the most painful parts of software development (because we so easily get used to certain models), but that has also often been the most rewarding parts. It is, after all, why “git” came to be, for example. And I think open source in general is obviously just another “process model” change that I think is very successful.

So my model is kind of a reverse “end result justifies the means”. Hell no, that’s the stupidest saying in the history of man, and I’m not even saying that because it has been used to make excuses for bad behavior. No, it’s the worst possible kind of saying because it totally misses the point of everything.

It’s simply not the end that matters at all. It’s the means – the journey. The end result is almost meaningless. If you do things the right way, the end result *will* be fine too, but the real enjoyment is in the doing, not in the result.

And I’m still really happy to be “doing” 20 years later, with not an end in sight.

What is the lesson(s) for the academic dean?  First, I love the phrase … “I needed a project to work on more that I needed the …”.      As a Dean, do you ‘need’ the project?    Is the ongoing ‘project’ of running the school your driving motiviation?   Second, clearly the journey is important.   Do  you enjoy being an academic dean?   Are you motivated by solving the problems facing your school and working collectively with your faculty?    Are you enjoying the journey?  Are we concerned with the “ends” – yes, but ultimately, it is about the journey.   Changing the way we do things – the academic processes are hugely important in academia just as they are in software development.   Thank you Linus!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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