Thinking Ethics was a project launched in Geneva to foster the debate about ethics. A few friends, fed up with only reading about abuses in the media, decided to hold a forward-looking seminar on five subjects: ethics and performance, ethics and knowledge, ethics and consciousness, ethics and disobedience and ethics in real time. If moral has to do with right and wrong, then ethics is its application in society. We believe that people need to talk about the subject to determine the level of ethics they want. The book Thinking Ethics, a result of the seminar, is to start the discussion. This blog is a contribution to the conversation. :
A new organization has been created in Switzerland - Bonopro (website in French only), named after the idea of pro bono work of lawyers. In fact it is a private to private (or one to one) loan scheme for students subtitled "investing in students' future". Students will receive loans to finish their studies, and some coaching, and promise on their honor to repay the loan someday. The members who pay in 5'000 CHF get to propose candidates and act as coach/mentor to the student when needed. The founders received some money to start this organization from someone who himself had been helped during his studies, as they had too.
The Chronicle of Higher Education explains about Harvard's new undergraduate curriculum. They will now require students to take seven courses, among which sciences of living systems and ethical reasoning. Apparently, an earlier proposal for a course on the study of religion was dropped. As moral authority erodes or is fragmented, it is even more important to bring ethics into the decision process. And where Harvard goes, others will follow. I feel fairly confident in predicting that we will see these types of courses everywhere within a few years.
Interesting slant in this commentary in the Institute of Global Ethics on a Christian Science Monitor article about the value of ethics classes in MBA education. The remarks are very critical, claiming that just because the students attend a class on ethics does not mean that they will change their behavior. Fair point - but what else can we suggest ? It raises awarness, and by incorporation ethical considerations in case studies, ethical considerations will be part of their decision process. Practice makes perfection. The next step would be for companies to make ethical behavior part of their evaluation process. So far we hear about companies firing for ethical reasons, but very little about hiring on ethical grounds.
Beyond Grey Pinstripes has just published its biennial survey and ranking of business schools, on the basis of preparation of the students for social and environmental stewardship. And the top 5 winners are Standford (USA), ESADE (Spain), York (Canada), ITESM (Mexico), Notre Dame (USA). Full ranking here.
One of the side effects of being able to find information on the web, is that students tend to copy parts of what they find without referencing it or they pass it off as their own - which is commonly called cheating. Some schools use software programs to detect plagiarism. Several American schools are trying to reinforce their values by publishing honor codes, and the first British university, Northumbria, has just adopted one - good article in the Guardian here. The main issue is of course the fact that most students don't think it is wrong, and that the lines around what they do as original work, and pulling something off the web are becoming fuzzy. The advantage of the honor code, is that it puts in black and white the desired behavior - clarity first.
Apparently, some ethics panels in US universities are extending their reach far beyond what is reasonable. Originally set up in 1974 to oversee research involving human subjects in the biomedical field, they were expanded to cover all research projects in universities that receive federal funds. Some universities have extended their oversight to all research projects. This is a sort of unwarranted expansion, as it can be detrimental to the humanities and social science research. Hard to conduct some research if you cannot interview people, say, and have to only rely on newspaper articles. Obviously it has gone a bit too far. Article with examples in the New York Times.
The leading MBA conference in Europe organized by the Spanish business school IESE (their motto is "Professionalism with a spirit of service") on Socially Responsible Business for students and companies is taking place in Barcelona on March 2-3, 2007. For information and registration click here.
The UK government is launching a plan to turn kids into ethical "tycoons". Gordon Brown announced it at the same time as the Social Enterprise Action Plan. The idea is to give 10£ loans to 1'000 kids to creat a business and try to make a social impact. The 50 who make the most money and the 50 who have the biggest social impact in one month will win prizes. Schools and colleges will distribute the money and decide on the suitability of the projects. They hope the kids will reimburse the loans. Anybody who does not return 60% of the money will be banned from future participation. more on the bbc website. Besides the educational aspect - there is another angle: we all heard of microcredit for developing countries - maybe it will work in more affluent societies as long as we start the entrepreneurs earlier.