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Educators from Around the Globe Grapple with Same Issue: How to 'Teach' Ethics

June 15, 2004

Bentley faculty met last month with counterparts from around the world during a groundbreaking 10-day Global Gadfly Workshop. This pilot program in business ethics initiated an international network of educators dedicated to helping students raise their ethical awareness and ability to make rational, ethical choices in the business world.

The workshop was the first-ever global version of Bentley's long-running internal "Business Ethics Gadfly Workshop," established in 1991 by Bentley's internationally-recognized Center for Business Ethics.

The gadfly reference "dates back to Socrates who described himself as a gadfly, a stinging insect, whose purpose was to harass and sting the citizens of Athens out of their ignorance and intellectual complacency," said Robert Frederick, Bentley professor and Chair of Philosophy and a workshop co-facilitator.

The global session drew visiting scholars from Budapest University (Hungary), the University of Pretoria (South Africa), the Norwegian School of Management (Sandvika, Norway), York University (Toronto, Ontario), IAE (Argentina), L'Ecole de Management de Lyon (France), DePaul University (Chicago) and Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA).

"The entire workshop went well beyond any expectations we had," said co-facilitator Tony Buono, professor of Management and coordinator of the Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility. "We now have the beginnings of a great international network. It was a wonderful opportunity to get perspectives from people of different cultures and from different parts of the world. The reality is that we're all grappling with similar issues: As educators, how do we capture the attention of our students and bring the issue of ethics to bear in the educational experience?"

Workshop presenters included Center for Business Ethics founder and Executive Director Mike Hoffman; Barbara Kipp, Global Ethics and Business Conduct Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Ed Petry, executive director of the Ethics Officer Association.

Since a majority of attendees were not ethicists, one goal of the workshop was to immerse educators in ethics training in order to broaden their understanding of ethics concepts, analysis and application in their respective courses. The workshop offered a balance of ethical theory and hands-on practice in analyzing cases and other teaching materials from ethical and discipline-based perspectives.

"The goal of ethics education is to give people the knowledge, skills and judgment they need to grapple with very tough ethical problems that all of us face at some time or another," said Frederick, who noted that most ethical problems are very complex and charged with deep disagreement about the morally right thing to do. "There is no easy, common sense solution that moral inclination delivers to everyone. To suppose that an alleged inclination will somehow rescue us from these problems, or that we learned what to do about them at our parents' knee, is to deny our own moral autonomy and responsibility."

Lea Dippenaar, an ethics lecturer at the University of Pretoria, said one of the most valuable aspects of the workshop was "sharing ideas with peers and getting a better perspective on how ethics is incorporated in various fields and getting an idea of how countries and continents differ as to our understanding of ethics, as well as the teaching methodology used."

"The workshop not only helped me to be more aware of the ethical and moral implications of the accounting profession but to apply it faithfully and professionally," said Charles Malgwi, Bentley Assistant Professor of Accounting. "This is essential for every profession in strengthening the code of honor."

The Global Gadfly pilot will be followed up by a more intensive global workshop in business ethics at Bentley, tentatively scheduled for 2005.

"When you don't make ethics the central focus of business education, things can go awry," concluded Buono. "If we interweave ethical issues into what we teach will students make the right decisions in school and out in the real world? I don't know. But our hope is that the discussion will expand the decision logic that students go through and get them to think about problems from a different vantage point, to consider alternative perspectives so that they make better decisions as they begin to look at a problem. That's what we attempt to do when we talk about business ethics."

Front Row: (left to right): Bob Frederick (Bentley), Amalia Milberg (Universidad Austral), Charles Malgwi (Bentley), Howard Kanter (DePaul University), Linda McJannet (Bentley), Tony Buono (Bentley) Row Two: Brigitte Muehlmann (Bentley), Julie Lockhart (Western Washington University), Anne Tercinet (l'Ecole de Management de Lyon), Lea Dippenaar (University of Pretoria), David Ortmeyer (Bentley), Sue Newell (Bentley).Back Row: Vicki LaFarge (Bentley), Eldrid Gynnild (Norwegian School of Management), Mary Chiasson (Bentley), Zsolt Boda (Budapest University), Patrick Scholten (Bentley), Alan Richardson (York University), Raj Sisodia (Bentley).

The Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College has been under the direction of W. Michael Hoffman since its founding in 1976. A nonprofit educational and consulting organization, its vision is a world in which all businesses contribute positively to society through their ethically sound and responsible operations. The Center has sponsored ten major conferences on business ethics, the first in spring 1977, attracting hundreds of national and international leaders and scholars from a variety of constituencies. The Center also provides a variety of publications, research and teaching materials, as well as consulting services. Its board of advisers is comprised of senior corporate executives.

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu

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