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Ethics education gets spotlight at Duquesne University

May 3, 2012
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kaitlynn Riely
Article Source: Read the Original Article

Geoff Archer, an American professor at Royal Roads University in Canada, recently asked his undergraduate business students to watch the 1987 film "Wall Street." Then he asked them about business ethics.

"More than half of the class said, 'Greed is good works for me,'" Mr. Archer said.

Twenty-five years after Gordon Gekko became a symbol for uninhibited corporate greed, Mr. Archer said his business students viewed Michael Douglas' character more as a model to imitate than a cautionary tale.

"This is what terrified me," said Mr. Archer.

This week, Duquesne University hosted the first International Conference on Education in Ethics, and Mr. Archer's discussion Tuesday touched on how movies can influence the development of a student's business ethic.

Mr. Archer was among the researchers and academics from 33 countries who converged at the conference to confront a question that comes up in fields ranging from business to medicine to pharmacy to law: How do we teach ethics to our students?

It's a topic that Henk ten Have, director of Duquesne's Center for Healthcare Ethics, said comes up again and again in the medical field, where advances -- such as stem cell technology and surgery for obesity -- often outpace discussion of their ethical implications.

"There are new possibilities, but it doesn't mean that it's always good to do," he said.

Dr. ten Have, secretary of the newly formed International Association for Education in Ethics, organized the group's first conference to allow educators to discuss how they invoke ethics in classroom discussions.

It's part of an educator's duty to talk to his students about navigating ethical dilemmas, Mr. Archer said.

One way to do that, he said, is by asking students to reflect not just on examples of ethical lapses depicted in Hollywood films like "Wall Street," but also on actual examples in their industry.

"I want them to be able to understand and describe quickly what went wrong in Enron, what went wrong on Wall Street, so that when this re-emerges in some shape or form, they'll be prepared," he said.

An ethics education has to be an ongoing pursuit, Dr. ten Have said.

"For me, ethics is not the kind of remedy you can inject and then everything changes," he said. Instead, it's a continuing discussion that encourages transparency and makes people more hesitant to do actions that are considered unethical, he said.

Dr. ten Have plans to make the international conference a regular event, and said he expects the next gathering to be held in two years in Ankara, Turkey.