» Setting the Stage for Ethical Thinking
Faculty member Dr. Pepe Chang relishes her role as a philosopher in a business school. Chang joined the college in 2007 to lead the business ethics program.
“We are training students to think critically about the decisions they make as individuals and as future business practitioners,” said Chang, who received her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Utah. “This means they need to learn how to develop and analyze arguments in order to justify their beliefs and behaviors or in turn realize that they cannot be justified.”
According to Chang, business ethics is not just a rulebook of do’s and don’ts. “Someone trained in philosophical thinking understands that being ethical is a tedious process that requires much thought and effort,” she said. “But, by critically thinking about the problem, a person with ethical thinking skills can figure out when it is appropriate and permissible to break these rules.”
Imagine this scenario. A teenager is driving home in order to meet his 10 p.m. curfew. Along the way, he witnesses an automobile accident. Does he stop and render aid? By doing so, he will not be home on time. But is leaving an injured individual unattended a greater moral crime? “I want students to learn who they are and decide what kind of person they want to be in the business world,” said Chang.
This pursuit of corporate social responsibility has now been formalized into a new comprehensive business ethics program. Beginning this fall, the college has launched a new required MBA course, Ethics and Globalization.
Offered in an innovative format, the ethics course will meet for eight hours over the course of four Saturdays. MBA students will be challenged with discussing matters such as gender issues, sweat shops, outsourcing, compensation, affirmative action and accountability. Students will analyze case studies, work on group projects, and learn to formulate and deconstruct arguments for specific points of view.
“This course sets the tone for our MBA program,” said Chang. “We take ethics seriously, and the business world takes ethics seriously. In addition, it allows the students to bond and develop contacts at the beginning of their MBA education.”
The course will be led by Chang and Dale Clark, a visiting faculty member also trained in philosophy. Students will have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their own personal values and beliefs as well as the importance of accountability for responsible leadership. In addition, students will be provided with foundations for ethical reasoning that lay the groundwork for responsible decision-making.
“We want to draw out personal values and beliefs,” said Chang. “Allow students to see what kind of person they are and articulate their own values. What makes them angry and why? How do they want to be treated? How do they want to act as a leader?”
One element that distinguishes the college’s program from other business schools is that it is taught from a philosophical perspective. “At the end of the day, business leaders will be judged by their peers, not just by someone within the corporate world,” said Chang. “Right and wrong behavior is determined and justified by the same logical method regardless of the discipline.”
A pilot course was conducted last fall with 12 students. The response was overwhelming. “Students were receptive to this process because I explored how they feel and what they think,” said Chang. “Although they became frustrated at times, they enjoyed the opportunity to explain and argue for their beliefs.”
Recent MBA graduate Mike Tucker shared his insights as a member of the pilot class. “The course was very enlightening and offered a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to life as well as business. It required more than simply learning theories, but rather entailed a deep self-reflection of one’s core values and ethics.
“In light of the recent scandals in the business world pertaining to the misuse of power and lack of ethics, this course was very relevant to our studies as MBA students,” said Tucker. “The class has given me the ability to rationalize most decisions I make and to look deeper than surface level when determining the far-reaching effects of my daily decisions.”
While the college has always required an undergraduate course in Social and Ethical Issues in Business, the curriculum has been expanded to focus on critical thinking. Students will be expected to develop their own beliefs about the permissibility of actions and then provide arguments for their beliefs.
“We are teaching students how to think ethically and giving them the tools to move ahead,” said Chang. “If you can think logically, you will be able to decide what choices are the best and justify them to your peers.”
In addition to promoting ethical thinking in the classroom, business students learn about ethics in practice through a collaboration with the Ecumenical Center for Religion and Health.
This past year, more than 280 students from faculty members Ray Teske and Linda Vaello’s Social and Ethical Issues in Business courses interviewed 35 businesses, not-for-profit organizations and individual nominees as part of the collaboration. Students assessed the nominees for the center’s annual Ethics in Business award and submitted a comprehensive report outlining their findings, which were used by the center to select the award recipients.
“Working with the business students has been a wonderful addition to our Ethics in Business Initiative,” said Paul Parks, executive director of the Ecumenical Center for Religion and Health. “The students bring their enthusiasm to the project and walk away with the tools they need to lay an ethical foundation for their future careers.”
Proceeds from the awards dinner go to the community-based programs of the Ecumenical Center and support scholarships at the UTSA College of Business. To date, more than 750 students have participated in the project.
“This project exposes students to the good side of business,” said Vaello, a senior lecturer teaching accounting ethics. “We broaden the students’ understanding of how business leaders make decisions, face obstacles and follow the right path.”
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