BY JOHN RHOADS – STAFF WRITER
By now, most of us have taken a course or two on ethics. But can ethics really be taught in a classroom setting? The role of management is to make hard decisions, and all decisions depend on context. I believe that there are ethics and morals in theory and ethics and morals in practice. The problem is that dilemmas change from black-and-white to grey depending on the circumstances we encounter them in. Anderson lecturer Derek Alderton notes that when managers cross ethical lines, it isn’t usually due to a lack of morals or to conscious criminal intention. “Managers provide value by making the hard decision when alternatives aren’t perceived as between right and wrong, but as between varying degrees of right,” he explains. “You can suddenly find yourself in a very hard place.” Maryland’s Smith School of Business has taken students to a real prison to reinforce the implications of lapses in ethics. Here at Anderson, Associate Dean Rob Weiler says morals and ethics “are a community issue.” “Too often, we don’t fully understand the repercussions of actions. Until you attach the outcome – who it’s harming and who it’s affecting – it’s not real,” Weiler says. But one challenge is how to empower students to actively engage in dilemmas. “One downside of the great [culture] is that sometimes we aren’t courageous enough,” Weiler says. “We don’t take short term pain for long term growth. Now, how do we teach that?” Effective management means making the hard calls. Without simulating the high-pressure environments that M.B.A.s will inevitably encounter after graduation, classes focused on decisions and negotiations will surely miss out on an opportunity to help students learn critical skills.