Do ethics trump free enterprise and the bottom line?
JMU's new College of business dean discusses developing principled business professionals
By Patricia May ('94M)
From Winter 2014 Madison
Mary A. Gowan, dean in the JMU College of Business, has extensive consulting and executive education experience with private and public organizations in the areas of leadership, human resources management and organizational behavior. Gowan is only the third female academic dean among the 15 top public undergraduate business schools nationally. Her previous research has focused on corporate reputation and career transitions. She served previously as dean and a faculty member at Elon University.
On behalf of Madison magazine, Patricia May (’94M), director of communications in the College of Business, talked with Gowan about ethics in business. Gowan also addressed JMU’s cross-disciplinary initiative — the Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action.
The Madison Collaborative’s coordinated curricular and co-curricular opportunities employ an eight-question ethical reasoning framework and are applied in three domains: personal, professional and civic life. The initiative’s goals include elevating the campuswide understanding and discourse on ethical reasoning as a teachable, evaluative process; and the Madison Collaborative will provide a unifying framework that aligns campus efforts to teach and assess ethical reasoning.
In the following Q&A, Gowan talks about ethics in business.
Mary Gowan, dean, College of Business, says JMU is working to develop principled business professionals.
Madison: The Madison Collaborative prepares enlightened citizens who apply ethical reasoning in their personal, professional, and civic lives. Why is this important?
Gowan: We all encounter ethical dilemmas in our lives —at work, at home and in our communities. The Madison Collaborative provides students with a framework, or set of lenses, through which they can identify and assess ethical dimensions in decision making. This approach also helps students understand that many times there is no one right answer in an ethical dilemma. What you may see as an appropriate and ethical response in a particular situation may not be the same for me. What is important is making sure you have thought through the consequences of the decision from an informed, ethical perspective.
Madison: Could the Madison Collaborative’s Eight Key Questions be easily integrated into business courses?
Gowan: Absolutely. In fact, Bob Kolodinsky, a College of Business management professor and founder of the JMU Gilliam Center for Free Enterprise and Ethical Leadership, was instrumental in the development of the Madison Collaborative.
The collaborative’s Eight Key Questions focus on evaluating the ethical dimensions of a problem and thinking about outcomes. They offer insight about using multiple lenses to see the situation and arrive at an informed and reasoned response rather than having decisions driven by one’s own biases and/or limited experience and knowledge. This framework provides a tool for studying business issues, which is extremely important for future business professionals and leaders. Businesses are largely human systems, thus decisions made often affect others in the organization. The decisions may affect the environment and the community in which the business operates as well.
These Eight Key Questions should be addressed in all of our business classes, not just the obvious ones like Business Law and Management. Doing so ensures our students understand their applicability across multiple settings and types of issues.
Madison: Should ethics be taught in a college of business? If so, what is the JMU College of Business doing in this area?
Gowan: Businesses and business schools have come under a lot of fire in recent years because of poor ethical decision making on the part of some corporate executives. Including in our curriculum conversations and exercises focused on ethical decision making gives students a greater awareness of the kinds of challenges they will face in future careers. Also, our AACSB accredited programs are required to cover ethical understanding and reasoning in the curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The goal is to ensure students can identify ethical issues and address them in a socially responsible way. Currently we are engaged in a strategic planning process in the College of Business. As part of that process we are having a conversation about how well we are addressing ethics in the curriculum and asking ourselves if we are doing enough.
Madison: Why is it important for the College of Business to have the Gilliam Center for Free Enterprise and Ethical Leadership under its umbrella?
Gowan: The presence of the center signals that we see ethics as an important part of the conversations and activities in the College of Business. The resources provided by the center enable faculty members to engage in scholarly activities related to ethics, provide funds to support student engagement in ethical conversations, and allow us to bring to campus executives who can share their experiences related to ethical decision making. The center, along with the College of Business, Madison Collaborative, and offices of the president and provost hosted Cynthia Cooper, the WorldCom whistleblower, for a presentation to our students on Nov. 13.
Madison: Tell our readers more about The Gilliam Center for Free Enterprise and Ethical Leadership — are free enterprise and ethical leadership competing concepts?
Gowan: I believe that free enterprise succeeds when business executives exercise principles-based leadership which has a strong ethical component. These leaders recognize the value of their human resources and their businesses’ role in the local and larger communities. We run into problems with free enterprise when leaders are so focused on making money that they fail to engage in ethical and socially responsible decision making. Thus, our goal in the College of Business is to develop principled business professionals and leaders who can embrace and profit in a free enterprise economy. The Madison Collaborative and activities supported by the Gilliam Center assist us in that endeavor.