Ethics In ActionNov. 26, 2007
By Jeff Brown
From Enron's accounting fraud to plagiarism in The New York Times, scandal after scandal has made the headlines over the past decade as individuals fell prey to the temptation to cut corners, inflate numbers and make other ethically challenged decisions.
As a result, companies searching for new hires on college campuses across the country are increasingly looking not only at résumés and GPAs, but also at a student's integrity.
"It's becoming more and more important today as you hire," says Dr. Marty Stuebs, assistant professor of accounting in Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. "Companies are looking at the character of employees as they hire them."
As future graduates of the largest Baptist university in the world, Baylor students have an advantage that their peers at other schools lack: professors who can teach ethics with a personal, Christian conviction backed by the university.
"Because we're a Christian institution, we talk more about Christian faith, values and character and how they influence the decision-making process," says Dr. Mitchell Neubert, the Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business and H.R. Gibson Chair in Management Development. "We definitely can talk about a wider range of things than other schools can. Others end up in a quagmire of relativism because they have difficulty saying some things are better than others.
"We have something we believe is worth discussing--the teachings of Christ, and the model of Christ. We're not a Bible class, but we have the advantage of talking about an absolute sense of what's better than other options--not just what's legal."
Dr. Byron Newberry, associate professor of mechanical engineering, agrees.
"Speaking for engineering, we probably teach ethics a little differently [than other schools]," says Newberry, who leads a course on Social and Ethical Issues in Engineering. "We talk about a lot of the issues, what might be a Christian response to various topics, and how that might vary from the wider culture's response. If you take ethics at a state school, you probably won't get that.
"Especially coming from Baylor, it's important to produce students who not only have the technical information but values to go with it."
In the classroom, those values can be learned and practiced without suffering the consequences that would follow a misstep on the job, says journalism professor Dr. Sara Stone.
"The value of 'doing ethics' in the classroom rather than the newsroom or other workplace is that you have the opportunity to raise more questions than you answer and to systematically work through the nuances of decision-making without actually having to really invade privacy, break a promise to a source, run afoul of officials or offend audiences," explains Stone, who has taught a course on Law and Ethics of Journalism at Baylor since 1993.
Ethics isn't only about teaching right and wrong in specific situations--it's also about how to apply those values. Dr. Jonathan Tran teaches a class on bioethics as part of the Medical Humanities program.
"Have you seen The Karate Kid?" Tran asks. "Daniel-san is being trained to fight karate by Mr. Miyagi, but he doesn't know it; he thinks he's just waxing the floor. But later on, when he has to use his karate skills, they've become intuitive to him, because he's been trained in other things. That's similar to the type of ethics I'm trying to teach, which is that the formations we're already in teach us to be ethical.
"It's a very different way of thinking about ethics, versus a lot of contemporary bioethics books that say, 'Here's one side of the argument and here's the other side of the argument,' and it doesn't presuppose that you know anything about any of these critical issues already," Tran says.
The teaching of ethics has made its way into most every department, both in introductory survey classes and higher-level, more focused courses. But as the pace of today's international marketplace continues to quicken, the pressure to bend the rules to get ahead is only growing. The effects of ethical decision-making are felt across all disciplines, but perhaps none feel the pressure more acutely than the worlds of medicine and business.
Eight years ago, Baylor approved the creation of a medical humanities minor; recently the program was approved as a major, as well. The program is designed to provide pre-med students with an interdisciplinary education that incorporates much of a traditional liberal arts training, thus giving students a better understanding of the complexity of health and healing.
"There's a tradition of teaching pre-med courses that involved the humanities," says philosophy professor Dr. James Marcum, who also serves as the medical humanities program director. "About 20 years ago, it became apparent that physicians needed courses in bioethics. Schools have responded to that."
Courses on bioethics, philosophy and medicine, and religion are core requirements for the degree, providing future doctors and nurses with a better understanding of both how ethics are formed and how they relate to topics students will have to grapple with in the field: abortion, stem cell research, genetic engineering, etc.
"We try to get students to reflect on what type of ethical system they want to act in ... and to realize that there are values associated with each of those. Everyone acts from some ethical system," Marcum says.
Tran recognizes that learning to apply ethics is difficult for students.
"The (bioethics) class is really hard for students in two ways," he says. "It's hard because students want an answer, especially the Christian ones. They want to come out of the class, in a sense, with a defense of what they already believe. ... What's hard for them to recognize is that they've already been part of a moral community, and to accept that those are the terms by which they're probably going to make most of their moral choices.
"I want them to have some information--what are the various arguments about such-and-such--but ultimately, I hope that they can see more of an affirmation of the moral communities that they are a part of, and that they should continue to seek."
Rather than teaching students specific ethical standards for precise scenarios like the business school, the medical humanities classes focus on helping students recognize their own moral values so that they will be prepared to make decisions when faced with the questions that arise in the field of medicine.
"For the majority of training in medical school, they don't have any of this," Tran says. "Most medical doctors will say they've been trained in a lot of things, but they have not been trained in being present around suffering, which is a large part of the game."
Since suffering of various degrees is at the center of so many issues, from abortion to euthanasia, such training is vital. Future doctors and nurses must learn to relate to not only patients' symptoms, but also their perceptions of their condition, Marcum says. If a patient feels his/her sickness is a punishment from God, "You have to address it. That doesn't mean the physician as chaplain, but you can't ignore it, either," he continues. "We try to teach that the patient is more than just a diseased body you see sitting there."
Select students from the medical humanities program received partial scholarships to attend the Baylor University Medical Ethics Conference, hosted by the Center for Christian Ethics last June. Future conferences, planned for 2008 and 2009, will provide a forum for both students and practicing health care professionals to explore some of the ethical questions in their field.
"We'd like for this to become a self-sustaining program," says Dr. Robert Kruschwitz, the Center's director. "We hope to cap it at about 100 participants so that there is plenty of opportunity for discussion."
Funding from the Lilly Endowment and the Baylor Horizons program allowed ethicists from Duke, Notre Dame and other schools across the country to join Baylor professors in leading large- and small-group discussions based upon a selection of readings. Practicing professionals gain continuing education credit for participating, while students benefit from being able to work through ethical dilemmas with their future colleagues who are already in the field.
"The material isn't just tied to the present; these topics are things that have been important for many, many years," Kruschwitz says.
Ethics as a skill set
True to its mission to prepare leaders with integrity, Baylor and the Hankamer School of Business launched an Ethics Focus Week in 1999. By the time Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, the foundations for what would become the Dale P. Jones Business Ethics Forum were firmly in place.
In addition to a panel of speakers from both academia and the business world (see sidebar for details), this year's forum included a new twist--an ethics case competition for MBA students. Nine teams, including one from Baylor, were given a 12- to 20-page business scenario that posed an ethical dilemma; two days later, they presented recommendations to a panel of judges on how the leader of such a company should act.
"Surprisingly enough, there are many case competitions, but not many ethics competitions," says Dr. Anne Grinols, assistant dean for faculty development and college initiatives and one of the competition's organizers. Grinols says that after attending a poorly run competition at another school, one of her students wondered, "Why doesn't Baylor have a forum? We would do it right."
"Taking it to this level shows we are serious about ethics at Baylor," Grinols says. "We don't just talk about it; we mean it. The students take that with them, along with their marketing and everything else."
Of course, the Forum isn't the only time of year that Hankamer students focus on ethics. In a course on Business and Professional Ethics for Accountants, for instance, Stuebs teaches what he calls "TEAM work--Think Ethically, Act Morally."
"I definitely try and bring in the Christian perspective to the classroom," Stuebs says. "I tie a lot of ethical concepts we develop in class back to Biblical principles and Bible passages.
"One example: In performing an economical analysis of a situation, economic theory says you should act in your own self-interest, that that will achieve the best results for society as a whole. We spent time discussing, 'Is greed good?' The students talk about the pros and cons, and we relate it back to Christian views of greed. ... Why might greed not be so good? When you act out of greed, you destroy trust. It begins to show students that acting in a greedy way is not always the best policy."
"Some say you can't teach ethics," muses Grinols. "But if you don't teach it, you're sending a negative message. There is no neutral message. ... Ignorance of ethics is no excuse. We're doing a disservice to the students if we don't provide this."
"Ethics to us is not just avoiding wrongdoing, but pursuing the good," Neubert says. "In a professional school, we have people focused on learning a skill set to get a job, but they're starting to learn that more companies are actually looking for ethics as a skill set.
"We believe our approach will translate into our students being good corporate citizens, where it's not just about making money, but also about treating others with respect."