Corporate Scandal as a Teaching Moment: Business School Aims to Make Ethics a Flagship, Not a Fig Leaf, of Curriculum. (Catholic Colleges and Universities)

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At least five former students telephone Jeff Cornwall or show up in his office here every week. Many are recent graduates of the University of St. Thomas' elite College of Business.

They come because "they're facing cutting-edge concerns and realizing very quickly how difficult it is to navigate the business arena within the grade. A lot want to know how they can keep an Enron-like debacle from happening in their company," Cornwall told NCR.

The scandals that have darkened the face of corporate giants like Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Adelphia, Qwest, Sunbeam and others have startled the business school, which currently enrolls some 2,100 undergraduates and some 3,300 graduate students--half of St. Thomas' enrollment. The scandals have given deans, instructors and students pause to rethink how the ethical principles that students come to know throughout their years at St. Thomas can support their decisions in and out of the workplace for their entire lives.

Enron has become "a teaching moment" at St. Thomas, noted William Raffield, interim associate dean for the College of Business. Corporate malfeasance has caused the school to "look in the mirror," and ask: "Are we doing enough? Are our students getting out with the ethical awareness they need" for their futures?

This business school "embraces the `Catholicness' of all that we do here," said Cornwall, who holds the Sandra Schulze Chair in Entrepreneurship. As a business college within a Catholic university, the school "is trying to find unique ways to deliver on our commitment."

One of the ways is by integrating the liberal arts and the professional school's curricula. Business students take two-thirds of their courses outside the business curriculum. Efforts are made to bring ethics into all the professional courses.

All students take an introductory required course in ethics and end their studies with a capstone course that aims to relate ethical responsibility with their field of competence.

"We really want to see ethics as a flagship--not a fig leaf--of the curriculum. It's what makes St. Thomas different," said Kenneth Goodpaster, holder of the Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics.

But "unless the entire faculty owns the ethics agenda, it's not going to work."

After 20 years of teaching at Notre Dame and Harvard and 12 years at St. Thomas, he's certain that students take their ethics from "the whole, not just from one professor."

Goodpaster has written print and Web-based textbooks and case studies that are used around, the world for teaching ethics. He has also persuaded teachers with doctorates and years of experience to weave ethics into a finance, marketing or management course.

Goodpaster's workshops for faculty and fulltime research associates come with ready-for-the-classroom videos, which he labels "irresistible." The videos present case portfolios highlighting ethical issues that relate to a particular sector of corporate life.

St. Thomas is one of the few universities that address ethics in every course evaluation, he said, and has been doing it since the 1980s. The evaluation form asks whether ethics came up and whether or not it was handled sufficiently in the course. Determining which university departments could use "a little reinforcement" is one of the ways the college tries to have values and virtues permeate the entire curriculum, he said.

What Enron and other scandals have shown is that the crisis in the corporate world today is a crisis in ethics, Goodpaster said. It is also a "crisis of professionals" in law, auditing, consulting, investment banking and financial analysis--all fields in which graduates of St. Thomas and other Catholic business schools are employed.

"We're seeing professional judgment being displaced" by economic pressures and by greed, he said. Conflicts of interest are proving "much more serious than we'd imagined. …