The other week, I asked whether business schools were effectively teaching ethics. That question was answered, at least in part, the other day when I spoke at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. In talking with many of the 200-plus students gathered for the event, I discovered something encouraging: All is not lost on the ethics front.
For the past several years, the university has been holding annual corporate social responsibility weekends. The impetus for these events was the realization, on the part of business faculty leaders, that their department’s educational experience had to go beyond traditional disciplines — accounting, finance, marketing, and management — to encompass a larger concept: Business isn’t just about the production of profit or the satisfaction of shareholders. It’s about contributing to a greater good, which could take a variety of forms: sustainability, environmental protection, and the preservation of human capital, among others.
This year I happened to be the keynote speaker. The faculty wanted students to get a “real life” taste of what can lead a well-educated, intelligent person to make uneducated, unethical choices. And, well, who would know better than someone who landed in federal prison for effecting a Ponzi scheme?
The students were engaging, and open with their questions. They certainly didn’t hold back. Many of them reflected a depth of wanting to understand the ethical implications of business choices. Not just the implications but the triggers that would cause someone to make what, in retrospect, might be considered unethical choices.
All in all, a day well spent. Kudos to Queen’s Business School for bringing the role of corporate social responsibility to the conversation — and keeping that conversation going year after year.