Ethics gets new spin in Eller College
The Eller College of Management’s Center for Leadership Ethics was established this summer to promote the importance of ethical behavior in business, from the classroom to corporate America.
The college has emphasized the inseparable nature of ethics and business within its classrooms for nearly a decade, said Paul Melendez, EthicsPoint distinguished lecturer in business and director of the Center for Leadership Ethics.
Prior to 2002, the Eller College would send their students to other departments to satisfy their ethics requirement. Melendez established the college’s first ethics course after students complained that the ethical issues they learned about in journalism and philosophy classes were not always relevant to them. “That’s how it got started,” he said. “It was when we made that decision that we needed to stop outsourcing the ethics requirement and start owning it ourselves.”
Although programs like the High School Ethics Forum, the Collegiate Ethics Case Competition and the Executive Ethics Symposium have since addressed many of those issues, Melendez said the college wanted to aim even higher and establish a center.
“In order to get a center accepted it has to get by the department head, president and ultimately the regents,” he said. “It denotes a very different level of acceptance. It shows that your cause is much bigger than just a few people.”
The Center for Leadership Ethics does not have a dedicated physical space. Meetings and programs are held at different locations around the college. Stephen Gilliland, department head of Management and Organizations and executive director of the center, classified it as a virtual collection of people and programs and a new concept for centers.
“It doesn’t make sense to have a building that’s only partially used,” he said.
Gilliland said having the center is crucial at a time when business corporations and CEOs are making headlines for the wrong reasons.
“There’s been a lot of finger pointing at business schools for letting society down,” Gilliland said. “We trained the generation of leaders that went on to found companies like Enron and WorldCom. I hope the Eller leaders that we’re graduating will produce a very different business world.”
Invariably, 20 to 30 percent of all the cheating on campus occurs at Eller College, according to Melendez. Plagiarism accounts for roughly 90 percent of infractions, followed by using electronic devices during tests and students coordinating to help each other on exams.
It’s possible that these numbers are misleading, according to Melendez.
“It’s not that Eller students are worse, it could be that our faculty are better at detecting it,” Melendez said.
Melendez said the college’s faculty continues to devise ways of catching and preventing unethical behavior. Eller was the first college on campus to implement turnitin.com, a web service that detects plagiarism. Other preventative measures used to combat cheating include seating charts, handing out different versions of an exam and adding essay portions to tests.
Future goals of the center include working with companies that are supportive of ethics initiatives. Gilliland said the financial benefits of those partnerships are important, but it also sends a message to students that multi-billion dollar corporations value ethical behavior.
Greg Yagan, a marketing senior, said avoiding cheating is constantly emphasized in class syllabi, before exams and during every class early in the semester. Yagan said the same emphasis on ethical behavior was present at his Wal-Mart internship last summer.
“When you copy an answer off a friend it seems small,” he said. “But down the line that could be you changing a number on a financial sheet and being part of a Ponzi scheme. It’s a progressive path.”
Gilliland recalled a student writing back to him and telling him about the orphanages he supplies with basic needs by partnering with hotels and other firms in Europe.
“He saw organizations with resources and he saw orphanages with needs,” Gilliland said. “He put together his Eller ethical awareness and saw that he could make a difference. When I hear stories of what our graduates are doing to change the world, I know we’re making a difference”