A mental trek through the Himalayas will be one of the ways that the University of California, Davis, exercises the ethical muscles of incoming Master of Business Administration students.
At a time when major ethical failings by corporate America have eroded public trust, the Graduate School of Management is introducing a mandatory ethics boot camp for its 150 entering MBA students. In this innovative program, the students will focus on a case study about providing assistance to a dying man they encounter in the mountains. They'll discuss leadership, values, and individual and corporate responsibility.
"Business is increasingly complex," says Dean Nicole Woolsey Biggart, who established the program. "Students who are well meaning and honest need guidance in navigating what can be ethically complex situations."
Before coming to the ethics boot camp, the students must complete selected readings in ethics and submit an essay about how they resolved a difficult ethical dilemma. About 60 full-time students attended boot camp on campus Wednesday, Sept. 17. About 90 students in the MBA program for Working Professionals attended an earlier session.
Woolsey Biggart, an expert in organizational behavior who teaches a section on ethical systems in a course exploring social issues in the workplace, says the boot camp will help prepare students for the teaching of ethics throughout the management school's curriculum -- from truth in advertising to privacy issues in information systems.
Leading the students through the boot camp was John Reynolds, who has more than 25 years experience in business. "The boot camp will underscore the importance of ethics to effective management and leadership," he says.
As managing partner of a Bay Area consulting firm that helps companies acquire and keep customers, Reynolds has faced many of his own ethical dilemmas. He has had a special interest in business ethics since early in his career when he quit a job after unsuccessful attempts to confront insider trading. Reynolds himself has an MBA from Stanford University.
The impact of a manager, Reynolds says, is magnified in a global economy and with the proliferation of technology. "The real challenge is recognizing when a situation calls for keen analysis to make the right decision," he says. "I want students to learn to think critically about ethical issues, to have the tools at hand to resolve those issues, and to find the moral courage to act."
The boot camp is one of several orientation sessions designed to ensure that students have the tools they need to be successful in their studies -- from basic accounting and business math skills to familiarity using data analysis and presentation software.