From the Dean

Ethics Challenge: Don't paint all business schools with the same brush

Two recent events on our campus have prompted me to share these thoughts on the role of faith-based business schools in creating future business leaders.We take special care and, yes, pride in educating the “whole” student, and our values often face challenges as we seek to fulfill this role.

This past fall semester, three of our Full-time UST MBA students violated our academic integrity policy by sharing answers on final examinations in two courses. While the media carry many stories of ethical lapses among students, this was our first encounter with something of this nature. These were not “slacker” students who skipped classes, freeloaded on group projects or partied when they should have been studying; rather, they were otherwise conscientious students who panicked under the stress of trying to maximize their GPAs and their chances for job success in a tough economy. They made a bad decision, were caught, judged guilty and suspended by the program. Rumors ran rampant within the program, even reaching out to alumni circles, causing added concern for the impact on the school.Was our longstanding vision of “educating highly principled global business leaders” at risk or, even worse, destroyed?

A Blue Ribbon Review Committee comprised of three widely respected faculty and two second-year MBA student leaders determined the sanctions to be inconsistent with program and institutional values, which they felt were appropriately focused on student development. The committee recommended a revised set of sanctions that included retaking the examinations with a maximum grade of “C” for the course if successfully passed, enrolling in advanced ethics courses, taking part in extensive community service, creating and executing a task force to improve ethical student decision making under conditions of stress and a voluntary public apology.

The sanctions are now well underway; the public apologies were tearfully and sincerely delivered and respectfully accepted; and the students are hard at work re-earning the respect of their peers. The student who had the courage to report the incident has forever earned our gratitude, and the entire student body has engaged more deeply in understanding their own values and the implications for future business decisions of their own under conditions of high stress.

Is our MBA program better off as a result of this? It is too early to tell. Our rigorous, challenging degree program can simulate the stresses encountered in later business life. Those students with character flaws will undoubtedly succumb multiple times to making flawed decisions. Others will learn significantly from their experience and use this knowledge to help make our world a better place in which to live and work. We will naturally revisit this event – and these students’ progress – at graduation and then over the coming years as our graduates assume leadership roles in businesses and organizations throughout the world. If we find them operating on the positive side, then we can take solace in the ultimate value of this distressing learning experience.

What gives me great hope is that at the very same time these three ethical infractions were occurring, a substantial number of first- and second-year MBA students had organized a chapter of FirstBook, a nonprofit organization that acquires and distributes books to grade-school students in areas and communities where having and reading books is either economically or culturally difficult. The young students are introduced to their own books and to the joys of reading by adult volunteers who meet and read aloud from these books in small groups of students. Our MBA students have used their organizational, marketing, operational and financial skills to engage a substantial number of fellow students, faculty and institutional professional staff to participate as readers and fundraisers to help purchase the needed books. This effort is in its first year and, like so many activities, it will take time to know if the effort will sustain through the normal annual transitions of student leaders and student interests, but its current momentum is impressive.

Returning to my original premise, if our role as a faith-based business school is to educate the whole student in preparing her to use her newly acquired business acumen to become a positive leader in an increasingly stressful, competitive environment, then I am feeling quite good about the prospects of success. Three students were overtaken by the combination of stress, opportunity and fear. Countless others took a quite different tack and are making a positive difference. On balance, we are all learning, and, with appropriate vigilance, we will be farther ahead than we were a semester ago.

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