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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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wateriswideconroyPat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors.   The Great Santini, the Lords of Discipline, Beach Music, Prince of Tides and My Losing Season have all made their impact on my life.   Yet, it is his first novel, The Water is Wide, that I often find myself rereading as I travel through my academic life.   Now the Water is Wide is largely an autobiographical recollection on Conroy’s teaching experiences as a young man on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina.  I recently came across the following lines, which struck home:

My pre-Yamacraw theory of teaching held several sacred tenets, among these being that the teacher must always maintain an air of insanity, or of eccentricity out of control, if he is to catch and hold the attention of his students. The teacher must always be on the attack, looking for new ideas, changing worn out tactics, and never, ever falling into patterns that lead to student ennui.

This past semester has been one of my best teaching semesters – ever.   Even though I am a full time administrator, I believe I have improved my teaching by staying focused on the important things – the lessons that will endure long after the class is over.   Solving large-scale, complex problems is the ‘name of the game’ in my class.   I begin by showing my students that their repertoire up to this point is not ready to deal with the complexities of organizational problem solving.   All semester, I challenge, we practice, I challenge again.   We learn – together.

Conroy writes more about teaching in his other novels.   Following are some more thoughts from Conroy that come from his time at the Citadel in the Lords of Discipline:

Great teachers had great personalities and that the greatest teachers had outrageous personalities. I did not like decorum or rectitude in a classroom; I preferred a highly oxygenated atmosphere, a climate of intemperance, rhetoric, and feverish melodrama. And I wanted my teachers to make me smart. A great teacher is my adversary, my conqueror, commissioned to chastise me. He leaves me tame and grateful for the new language he has purloined from other kings whose granaries are filled and whose libraries are famous. He tells me that teaching is the art of theft: of knowing what to steal and from whom. Bad teachers do not touch me; the great ones never leave me. They ride with me during all my days, and I pass on to others what they have imparted to me. I exchange their handy gifts with strangers on trains, and I pretend the gifts are mine. I steal from the great teachers. And the truly wonderful thing about them is they would applaud my theft, laugh at the thought of it, realizing they had taught me their larcenous skills well.

Here Conroy extends his theory to encourage us to learn from our past teachers.   He asks us to recall the times when great teachers moved us – made a difference.   To those in academia, don’t ever stop learning.   Don’t be afraid to be bold in the classroom.   Make your classroom memorable!   Make it spirited!  Make it yours!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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j9810I have a new hero.  He is Edward Burger, current president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.   Why is he my hero?   Here are the reasons:

  1. Burger went directly from professor of mathematics at Williams College to being a university president.
  2. Burger built his reputation by being an innovative, thoughtful teacher-scholar.
  3. Burger is the author of one the most important books I have read “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking”
  4. Burger has articulated the essence of being an effective academic leader into just two simple principles: (1) a focus on life-changing teaching, and (2) the commitment to securing resources to support the university’s academics.

I first learned about Burger in an interview published in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled ‘A Professor in the President’s Chair: Pushing for a ‘Friendly Revolution’.  In this article, two quotes stick out:

There are only two branches to this job: No. 1, make sure students are getting the most profound, life-changing, life-enhancing educational experience they can, and, No. 2, make sure that 100 years from now, whoever’s sitting in this chair will have the resources so he or she can do the exact same thing. That’s all. Everything else is noise.

And

The biggest change we made was in our committee structure, which had consisted of councils and committees and task forces. I have amazing colleagues, but the system was so gridlocked that it basically prevented itself from doing business. Shared governance to me means I get to share the wisdom and counsel of my colleagues, but the system in place didn’t allow that. People now serve on fewer committees, but they meet more frequently and have more impact.

It will be interesting to follow the presidency of Edward Burger.   Personally, I believe that he is just the breath of fresh air that is needed in higher education.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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TeachersPhilosophyWilliam DeWitt Hyde (1858 – 1917), the 7th president of Bowdoin College, was a prolific author and a remarkable university leader.    His writing and public speaking were “distinguished by fluency, ease, and roundness of statement”.   Hyde wrote at least fifteen different books that built on his knowledge in ethics, morality and the education of young people.    I particularly enjoy two of Hyde’s books that relate to higher education:   The College Man and the College Woman (1906) and The Teacher’s Philosophy in and out of School (1910).

In The Teacher’s Philosophy in and out of SchoolHyde builds the case for the teacher’s ‘in school’ philosophy by first illustrating the development of the young man from primary school to the university.   He concludes with the Five Tests of the Teacher.   They are reproduced below:

First : Is my interest in my work so contagious that my pupils catch from me an eager interest in what we are doing together?   Then I have the primary teacher’s quality, essential to success there and everywhere.

Second : Is my work thorough and resourceful, rather than superficial and conventional, so that the brightness of my industry and the warmth of my encouragement kindles in my pupils a responsive zeal to do their best, cost what it may?   Then I have the grammar school teacher’s essential quality, without which no one can teach anywhere aright.

Third : Do I get at the individuality of my students, so that each one is different to me from every other, and I am something no other person is to each of them? Then I have the high school teacher’s special gift ; and shall be a power for good all through my students’ lives.

Fourth : Do I treat them, and train them to treat each other, never as mere things, or means to ends ; but always as persons, with rights, aims, interests, aspirations, which I heartily respect and sympathetically share ? Then I have the college quality ; and am sure to be popular and successful everywhere.

Fifth : Am I so reverent toward fact, so obedient to law, that through me fact and law speak and act with an authority which my students instinctively recognize and implicitly obey? Then the mantle of the university, and a double portion of the professional spirit has fallen upon me and wherever I teach, the problem of discipline for the most part will solve itself through the mutual recognition by both students and teacher of a Power greater than either and higher than all.

As I make my teaching preparations for the upcoming academic year, I will reflect on William DeWitt Hyde’s five tests and will be a better teacher for it.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Intellectual CapitalIt has indeed been my privilege to serve on the Dean’s Search Committee for the past several months. During that time I have learned a tremendous amount about the characteristics of an outstanding business school.  Each Dean candidate has provided us with unique perspectives on what it will require for our business school to achieve its strategic vision.

Based upon our face-to-face meetings with eleven different candidates and multiple discussions with colleagues in both the academic and business communities, I make the following observations:

  1. The collective intellectual capital of a business school’s faculty is, for better or worse, the defining factor of an outstanding business school.
  2. Our business school must aggressively recognize and reward scholarship and the development of intellectual capital as a foundation of its success. The currency of the academic marketplace is the development of intellectual capital.
  3. I believe faculty in our business school have a unique opportunity to broaden the traditional definition of ‘outstanding scholarship’ and to find ways to reward faculty for the development of intellectual capital that is highly relevant to members of the business community and that furthers the ideal of ‘service to others’.

In order to take our school to the ‘next level’, the immediate challenge for the new Dean will be to work with vested constituencies (with perhaps an emphasis on our alumni) to create a broad vision that bridges the gap between the research strengths of the faculty and the greater business community.  In my estimation, the entire business school community must build on this new vision to develop our resource base, to build and expand our academic programs, and to energize our classroom teaching (particularly at the graduate level).

The result of not aggressively emphasizing academic scholarship (i.e. not emphasizing the development of intellectual capital, research) is:

  • Inability to effectively attract and retain faculty talent (the marketplace says that the intellectual capital of a faculty member is what most directly determines their value). This will take place in a world with a looming shortage of business PhD’s.
  • MBA Program: forced to compete at the low end of the market. Why? Faculty will continue to be viewed by students merely as instructors (reactive presenters of others’ concepts) rather than being viewed as sages (proactive developers and presenters of original, peer-reviewed concepts).
  • Inability to grow PhD program and attract chaired professors. There is a direct correlation between ‘top flight’ faculty, their PhD students and the academic reputation of the university. This reputation is built largely on academic scholarship.

Please do not take this memo to suggest that teaching and ‘service to others’ should be relegated to a lower status than research. Rather outstanding classroom teaching and service should be the expectation for all faculty members at our university.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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visionI recently read the 2012-2013 President’s Report for Clarkson University. In the report I found something very interesting – a “Vision of a Clarkson Education”. Unlike most university mission statements, the focus was on the educational experience offered at the university. I am impressed. The vision talks about the “what the education is designed to enable the students to do” and talks about a the characteristics of their “personal and friendly learning environment”. Bravo!    Below are some of the highlights of Clarkson’s vision statement:

  • The Clarkson University educational experience is designed to provide talented and ambitious students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve positions of leadership within their chosen profession.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to enable students to solve real-world, open-ended problems with creativity and risk taking to obtain solutions that are practical and sustainable.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to develop and refine exceptional communication skills with an awareness of potential cultural differences and to lead effectively and work productively within disciplinary and multidisciplinary teams composed of members with diverse interests and backgrounds.
  • A Clarkson student’s education is greatly enhanced by a personal and friendly learning environment.
  • A Clarkson student’s education draws undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff together into a cohesive and stimulating learning community, wherein an atmosphere of scholarship and spirit of research is cultivated.
  • Together, these provide a unique educational experience that is directed toward developing the whole person.

I am often struck by the importance of the words that we speak.   Clarkson is speaking volumes.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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