Otago Polytechnic
CORP staff LesleyGill 007

A question of ethics

Lesley Gill

When Lesley Gill introduced a business ethics project to her third-year ‘Business and Society’ paper, she received an enthusiastic and thought-provoking response from her students.

“I wanted to create a synthesis between what we teach and what we practice,” explains Lesley, a Principal Lecturer in business ethics in the School of Applied Business, “and to include an assignment that added a layer of research to the paper – so I picked a business ethics journal, gave the students the submission criteria, and asked them to research and write a 4500 word journal article on a global business issue.”

The results were impressive.  From Egotism and Accountability, to Corporate Betrayal, the Law of Justice, Ethical Practice and Capitalism – the students tackled complex business ethics issues. Gill presented her class with the journal’s ‘Call for Papers’, which highlighted the predicament of learning from the global financial crisis, and addressing the role of business ethics, or the lack of it. To prepare for their assignment, students studied the Enron case-study and the philosophies of Plato, Marx and Weber, among others, in order to build up a portfolio on the different perspectives relating to ethics, and how these theories have influenced contemporary business principles and practice.

This project’s goal was to get the students to take part in ‘experiential’ and ‘constructionist’ learning. Students get a chance to integrate theory and practice and construct their own learning from the materials given to them. “It was a great learning curve, and it helps students who would like to take academic learning further,” Lesley says. “It gave them the tools to become emerging authors themselves.”

Lesley believes that we should challenge students so that they know their own core values before entering the work place. That way they can then make “informed” decisions about what action to take, if faced with a business ethics dilemma. This assignment challenged the students’ own personal ethics, because “you can’t study this subject without taking yourself out of the equation.”

The business ethics paper looks at public, private and core beliefs. Lesley wanted to put “a practical spin” on a subject that can have far reaching consequences. If students realise that they are only responsible for their own behaviour, they are much better prepared for the workplace. “Many of those in management have a degree,” Lesley concludes. “So, what did we do to help them become more ethical? We owe our students this kind of preparation.”