Teleopathy and the Translation of Conscience

By Goodpaster, Kenneth | University Business, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Teleopathy and the Translation of Conscience


Goodpaster, Kenneth, University Business


TELEOPATHY (THE UNBALANCED PURSUIT OF objectives) can manifest itself in the life of the academy as much as in the life of a corporation. This includes, in the present context, business schools. Like corporations, schools as organizations can forget the purpose of the trip, becoming fixated on goals far from their original missions. In an effort to cultivate donors, high rankings, or tuition dollars, schools of business (among other professional schools) can actually manifest teleopathy while advertising a curriculum that stands for avoiding it!

When the business academy claims to offer knowledge and skill in a certain professional domain--especially ethics--it is reasonable to ask whether such knowledge and skill should be demonstrated not only in the curriculum but modeled by the school as an organization made up of faculty, administration, and students. It is also reasonable to measure the effectiveness of ethics education by asking how much business schools are able to "walk their talk"--to evidence their own abilities to live out the managerial virtues that they would foster in their students. The culture of an academic institution is more than just the curriculum of that institution.

A 2004 AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) task force report is emphatic about the importance of the cultures of business schools:

"Another way students learn about ethical behaviors is through the ethical culture they observe in their respective business schools. Students cannot be expected to internalize the importance of ethics and values unless business schools demonstrate such commitment within their own organizations. This means that business school deans need to think of themselves as ethical leaders who communicate regularly about ethics and values; who model ethical conduct; and who hold community members--faculty, staff, and students--accountable for their actions. Academic policies and systems should clearly be an integral, living part of the school's culture, and not simply a stack of documents in the file drawer."

Business ethics education can only be effective if it is supported widely by the faculty and administration of the school. Responsibility for ethics in the business curriculum must be borne by the entire business faculty, not outsourced or handled by one or two specialists or "gurus." The risk associated with outsourcing (e.g., from a philosophy department) is the same as the risk associated with specialists--compartmentalization. Compartmentalization happens when ethical issues that arise in other parts of the business curriculum are referred to the "experts," sending the wrong message to students as future ethical decision makers.

My former Harvard colleague, John B. Matthews Jr., used to observe that business school faculty carried a powerful "eraser" when it came to the seriousness with which students took ethical considerations in their courses. By this he meant that the work of colleagues committed to ethics in management could be "erased" by quips and body language from instructors in certain "tough-minded" courses who were signaling to their students their belief that ethical decision making in business required a certain "softness" or "sentimentality" Students read more than books and case studies in business school--they read the faculty with great attention. …

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