Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cole Lansford, Resident Expert on Ethics in Education

Only because I doubt our friends and family frequently pick up a copy of Utah CEO, I thought I would take a moment and brag about my husband's stint as a source for a recent article on Ethics in Education.

The full article requires a free username and password, but I will give you the Reader's Digest version of the article here. Cole is quoted several times. Feel free to skim, it is a long one.

Ethics in education

Enron. Tyco. Shady subprime lending. If ever business ethics were needed, the time is now, and Utah's business schools have responded with aggressive curriculum. But can ethics be taught?

by Tami Kamin-Meyer

The teaching of ethics and related principles has taken on
increased importance in Utah’s colleges over the last few years, says a fifth-year finance major at the University of Utah. “I have been instructed on ethics and ethical practices in some form or fashion in the majority of my classes at the U,” says Cole Lansford, a senior at the Rice-Eccles School of Business.

In fact, he adds, the topic of ethics has been “one of the main business principles being stressed.”

So why the renewed focus on ethics? Could it be the result of major ethical lapses and criminal behavior that have splashed businesses into the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years?

Yes, according to several Utah business experts. But can ethics really be taught?

Ethics curriculum

“Ethics, or at least ethical standards, can be taught. The real question is whether a person will adopt those standards, act accordingly and live by them,” says Kip Kint of Mission Ignition. Kint is a certified Franklin Covey coach whose company is based in Spanish Fork.

Kint admits that the emergence of ethics as an increasingly important aspect of business school does not mean that universities are cranking out graduates who consistently act ethically. There will be those who “feel they know what works for them so they may conform outwardly, but inwardly, they act differently. Some will hear what’s being taught at business school and will adopt and buy into it because they are swayed by the respect they hold for their professor or the institution itself,” says Kint.

Ethics are also stressed at the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, according to David Bradford, a Utah entrepreneur who plays integral roles with various business ventures, including Utah-based Linking Universe, an online social communication tool that seeks to harness the power of Facebook. A few years ago, while living in Southern California, Bradford was president of the Orange County Management Association, an affiliate of the Marriott School. He says that the college’s “whole philosophy is teaching ethics in business.”

One of Bradford’s responsibilities as president was to find speakers who would address Marriott students. He says every speaker was asked to discuss ethics in some way. “Ethics are a very strong thread [speakers] were supposed to talk about in every presentation,” says Bradford.

Teaching ethics to business school students is definitely on the upswing, according to Lansford. Just a few years ago, he says, class discussions about ethics focused on case studies. “But, with today’s real-world economic downturn, we are getting real-world experience in the classroom,” says the 24-year-old.

Bradford agrees that ethics have been increasingly stressed in Utah business colleges. “It’s a trend,” he says, primarily due to the incredible ethical lapses that led to Enron’s fall and the Tyco debacle, to name a few.

“People’s greed for money and power became so fundamental to their belief systems” that BYU’s Marriott School decided to alter its curriculum in an attempt to change behaviors. “BYU’s Marriott School wanted to reverse that trend,” says Bradford. The college “saw what Congress did by enacting Sarbanes-Oxley and decided to be part of that trend. They decided to be a leader in instilling ethics in our business students,” he says.

Can ethics be taught?

According to Steve Hawkins, a partner at Cohezion Communications in Sandy, ethics should be taught “as a good business practice.” However, he cautions, the foundation for future ethical behavior is laid well before a student begins their first day of college. “Honesty and fair play are instilled by parents, friends, teachers and business mentors,” says Hawkins.

Bradford agrees that a student’s background and upbringing play a significant role in whether ethics can be imparted upon a student. “Ethics are really taught in the home; 80 to 90 percent of ethics are taught before the ages of 10 to 12. What we do later in life is merely a reminder of the foundation of ethics learned early in life,” he says.

Cary Snowden, president of Square Compass, a company that builds technology-based Web sites, recalls negative feelings after he completed a course on ethics while a student at the University of Phoenix a decade ago. He says during class discussions, students expressed such varied views on ethics that he grew increasingly concerned about how ethical the world of business would be.

Snowden’s worries were exacerbated by the fact that his fellow classmates are often not the average liberal college student of today whose ears were either pierced or glued to an iPod or cell phone. In fact, he says, they were working professionals in high-ranking positions in various business fields.

As the father of young children, Snowden agrees that the foundation of an ethical life begins at home. However, due to both his University of Phoenix and business experiences, he says he realizes his version of ethics “may differ from others.”

Still, Snowden is emphatic when he says that college students “need ethics training, especially in business.”

The importance of learning ethics in business was reinforced for Lansford during a summer internship he recently completed in Salt Lake City. “One of the main business principles that was stressed was the importance of ethics,” he says. To reinforce that, his employer held a weekly learning series for interns featuring videoconferencing with management located in New York City.

One week’s lesson, in particular, resonated with Lansford.

“They focused on scandals in the last decade in the financial industry. They tried to instill how one’s reputation and ethics are intrinsic to business success,” he says.

The importance of teaching ethics

“Higher education concerns itself with encouraging students to adopt what they’re learning,” says Kint. That means if ethics, for example, are not being discussed in college, there’s less likelihood that students will demonstrate ethical behaviors in their personal and business lives after graduation.

Kint says it’s important to teach ethics to business students for a few reasons. Students will face ethical and legal dilemmas when engaged in the business world, so experience with resolving those conflicts will likely enhance their success. Moreover, “There are those who will fully adopt those standards and be better people because of them.”

“The best teacher is a good example,” says Hawkins. And whether a person is learning about ethics, business or sports, their education does not end after college graduation. “I’ve learned a lot from my partner, my clients and some of my vendors about being ethical,” he says.

While Lansford says he already had a solid, moral grounding due to his upbringing, his studies at the U have solidified his viewpoints on ethical behavior. “I’ve gotten a better understanding of the line in the sand,” he says.

It’s in the curriculum

[Writer lists curriculum from both schools. ]


Heather Perry said...

That is awesome. What a great thing to be a part of. I really like the part about his upbringing.

trenton said...

I am proud of you!

Waggoner Family said...

Way to go Cole! Maura how was TX? I hated the game. We were there and it made for a LONG drive home, but you were a Sooner surrounded by Longhorns!

Nicole and Scott said...

I miss you and I really missed you last night at dinner!