Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics in the Principles of Marketing Course: One Institution's Journey

By Luthy, Michael R.; Toner Schrader, Julie et al. | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics in the Principles of Marketing Course: One Institution's Journey


Luthy, Michael R., Toner Schrader, Julie, Padgett, Barry L., Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


ABSTRACT

Past and ongoing scandals in the business world provide justification for an increased emphasis on ethics and corporate social responsibility content in undergraduate business study, not as a separate course but integrated with other courses. The current paper presents a case history of the justification, planning, and practice of integrating ethics and corporate social responsibility material into the Principles of Marketing course at Bellarmine University, a small, historically Catholic, liberal arts university in the South. Relevant literature, the authors' experiences, both in the planning stages and after the new course design's initial offerings are discussed. Additional perspectives from the institution's President, Provost, and Dean of the Business School are presented, along with recommendations for other schools wrestling with how to address this issue.

INTRODUCTION

Through collaborative efforts among the marketing faculty of the business school and the philosophy department of the arts and sciences college at a small southern university the authors we were able to integrate informative and practical content on ethical and corporate social responsibility issues into the Principles of Marketing course. This was accomplished by: linking our effort to the mission statements of the university and business school, direct application of university goals and objectives to course outcomes, and, through the thoughtful and active support of the administration. The rationale and explanation of how this came to pass is recounted below.

Periodically, stories of questionable, and at times criminal, business activity have risen to dominate the business press. Rite-Aid and Wal-Mart have been investigated for their charge-back policies that leave their suppliers confused and temporarily or permanently underpaid. Sears Roebuck's disregard for bankruptcy laws, debtors' rights, and creditor priorities led to a $63 million fine--the largest in U.S. bankruptcy law history, to name a few (Jennings, 1999). Stories of unethical business practices, and their consequences have also come to dominate the popular press. Recently, Time Magazine named three corporate whistleblowers as their Persons of the Year for 2002 (Lacayo & Ripley, 2002).

The most widely reported story involving questionable business practices of recent history, and the one that has generated the most discussion beyond business professionals, is Enron. While the final chapter in that story has yet to be written, there has been widespread negative impact on employees as well as a large number of retirement plans. With the potential for criminal sentences and new Congressional legislation, the Enron scandal highlights once again the fact that organizations do not make decisions, individuals do. The Enron story also underscores the need for institutions of higher education to reexamine whether and how they address the subjects of ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their curricula.

Most of these scandals are not marketing transgressions per se. Fallout will likely involve public relations and affect future advertising and sales efforts for the firms. Because of this reality, an organization's ongoing marketing effectiveness is brought into play. While various alleged and admitted business actions may only be tangentially related to marketing, marketing's integrative nature and broad spectrum reach make it a natural area, both within the firm and in the curriculum, to link with ethical issues.

Transactions between buyers and sellers are at the heart of marketing. Given the numerous temptations for buyers and sellers to act unethically, before, during, and after transactions, the Principles of Marketing course is both a logical, and an ideal location, for discussion of business ethics and their influences on decision-making.

The accreditation agency for collegiate schools of business (AACSB International) has placed increased emphasis on teaching ethics to undergraduate and graduate business students (Silver & Valentine, 2000).

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