Why Should Educators Care About Teaching Business Ethics?

In the last few weeks, we’ve discussed some misconceptions of what ethics is based on Claire André and Manuel Velasquez’s article, “What is Ethics?” Now, let’s mull over the significance of ethics in your classroom. We will have a similar post in the following weeks that deals, essentially, with the question: why should we care that our students care?

One’s own career advancement is important, but it is far from the main reason to develop a deliberative, ethical consciousness. We make ethical decisions every day, often without thinking about them: whether to hold the door open for a senior citizen when we’re in a rush; how to respond to a boorish remark; whether to slide through a stop sign when we don’t notice any traffic; whether to cheat (just a little) on our expense reports or taxes; or how we deal with a co-worker or classmate who doesn’t contribute their share of the work, or compete by the rules in sports.

Sometimes we act, without conscious malice, just trying to get through our school or work day only to find the consequences are serious and far-reaching. Engineers at Thiokol did not adequately voice their safety concerns for the O-ring’s performance in cold weather far enough up NASA’s chain of command to reach key officials, and the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on launch, killing all seven crew members.

Similarly, technicians on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig continued drilling even though their blowout preventer was defective, faulty software was causing their systems to crash, their emergency alarms were disabled and a $500,000 acoustic trigger, which could have shut down a busted well, was not installed. Eleven BP employees were killed, 17 more were injured, and nearly 5 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

Would these individuals have done things differently if they had seen the bigger picture? Would they have found the courage to address their concerns more persistently? Presumably, yes. It seems obvious in hindsight.

What does it take to develop a sustainable ethical mindset, that internal compass that can guide individuals in the “right” direction? More on this next week…

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