Ethics in the work place: Consider the following case. Ten final candidates for a prestigious university teaching job are all well-qualified–eight are men and two are women. The department is currently all male. Some of the members feel that the women candidates are not as qualified as some of the men candidates. Some feel that all ten are equally qualified and therefore, since the department is currently all male, then they should choose one of the women candidates. What do you think the department should do? Do companies have a responsibility to promote diversity? Why or why not? (Remember, your essay should be at least 600 words and should be posted directly into the forum, not as an attachment.)

  • Module Reading and Objectives

    Module 2 Reading: pages 53-107Module Objectives:In this Module we will…*Consider whether (or the degree to which) personal ethics and business ethics can be separated.*Examine this issue through the lens of the moral theories we surveyed in Module 1.*Assess “the poker analogy” as it applies to both business life and moral life.*Pursue a close study of the Goldman Sachs company and its role in the market bubble of the 1990s.*Pursue a close study of Penn State’s conduct in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandel.

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    Module 2 Commentary

    In Module 1 we surveyed some moral theories to get a sense of right and wrong as it breaks out in any area of life, business, personal, otherwise. In this module we will transition to ethical dilemmas and situations that seem specific to the world of business. As the text notes, businesses and managers need a framework for ethical analysis. In other words, they need some standard or set of standards to regulate their conduct (in moral terms) s they go about their business and try to make a profit. Now some companies might just say that following the law is a sufficient depiction of their ethical stance, and be done with it. But as noted in the text, legality and morality do not necessarily intersect in all cases. Of course there is plenty of overlap between law and ethics. The speed limit in the school zone says 25 miles per hour; that’s the law. And, from a moral standpoint, it also seems like the right think, that is, driving 25 miles per hour is right, since the safety of school kids depends on it. So here is a case, it seems, in which the law and what’s moral or what’s obviously right intersect nicely.Consider by contrast the case described on page 54 of our text, that of Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. Their standard of ethics is closely linked with the law in the following sense: The law says that cattle are fit for slaughter only if they are able to stand on their own. If they are too weak or sickly or infirm not to stand then they are not fit for consumption. Hallmark/Westland, in the strict sense, does abide this policy insofar as they only slaughter animals which can actually walk into the slaughter house. But consider: The company may use certain enhanced coercive measures to get cattle to their feet; they may (and did) employ things like fork lifts, electric prods and water canons to get animals to their feet when they would not otherwise stand. Is this legal? In the strict sense, one could make a case that it is. Is it ethical? It seems not. When the case was exposed by the Humane Society a court did rule that the company’s practices were unacceptable, and a shut-down ensued. So the law did catch up with ethics in this case, we might say, but not before a lot of questionable meat made it into the food supply. In this illustration we see a classic sort of tension and byplay between law and ethics, and this is common in the world of commerce. We often hear of loopholes when people discuss matters such as this, and sometimes when the law is imperfect, morally speaking, companies will exploit such imperfections so that they may indeed be following the letter of the law, as we say, but not its spirit.Keeping these ideas in mind, let’s look at another case, that presented by Albert Carr on page 56 and following. In this story we read a striking claim from a prominent British statesman named Henry Taylor…”The ethics of business are games ethics, different from the ethics of religion.” What does this mean? First, we might we just reject this sort of distinction outright. If you are a religious person–say, someone who follows a particular code established in scripture or a set of commandments–then is it okay to say that you wear this ethical hat in one area of life, and another ethical hat when you are on the clock at work? Some people, and I think in particular some devout people, would reject this distinction outright. But for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s just accept that there are two moral codes we operate with, one for business life, one for religious or personal life. What does that mean? Carr makes the claim that in some contexts it is perfectly acceptable to bluff, as we bluff in a game of poker, since in business we sometimes operate with the shared understanding that absolute truth-telling is not expected. To be precise, there are cases, Carr says, where “falsehood ceases to be falsehood when it is understood on all sides that the truth is not expected to be spoken” (page 56). By way of example let’s consider a person who is selling a car. Let’s say he has is priced fairly and that he has fully disclosed a lot of the obvious information that a buyer would want to know: Mileage, whether the car had been in accident, the service records, the amount of wear left on the tires, etc. But suppose the seller had, just before his current sale, noticed that the “check engine” light had been tripped, and that he had taken measures to reset the light, so that a potential buyer would not know this. Does he have to disclose this information? If he does not, is that a form of lying? Does this fall under the purview of the sort of bluffing which Carr discusses, and which, according to Carr, is perfectly acceptable in the field of business? What would you expect as a car buyer? What standard would you hold yourself to if you were selling the car? What if disclosing the truth about the service light cost you the sale and compromised your position on the sales team? What if your persistent truth-telling in cases such as this ended up costing you your job? This is exactly what is meant in the text when it speaks of the “pressure to deceive.” It is everywhere in business life, and in personal life too, we might say. We might also consider this type of dilemma in the context of some of the moral theories we looked at in Module 1–Divine Command Theory, Utilitarianism, Kant’s Moral Theory, etc. What points of view do these schools of thought encourage? Finally, I’d like to consider a remark made in our text by Peter Drucker, one which anyone who has any medical training will recognize. The Hippocratic oath passed down to us by the Greek physician who lived about 2,500 years ago, says: Prinum non nocere (Above all, not knowingly to do harm.” This standard is applied in medical contexts but do you think that it applies to the business world as well? If not, should it? I think it is safe to say that in our personal lives we try to live up to this injunction. The question remains whether there is or should be a separate standard of moral conduct in place for the world of commerce.

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    Video Link: The Big Short

    In this module we look at the behavior of Goldman Sachs in connection with the housing/market bubble of the 1990s and 2000s. This subject is presented in compelling fashion in the film, The Big Short, whose trailer is linked here. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has an interest in how this bubble happened and what its consequences have been. You will find a lot here that relates to our discussion in this module about the sometimes tenuous relations between legality and morality

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    Video Link: Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing

    In the commentary above we assessed the conduct of Hallmark/Westland meat packing and its loose (let’s call it) interpretation of the “Standing” rule for cattle–the rule which says that an animal is fit for slaughter and fit for marketing only if it can walk on its own into the slaughter house. The link here is based on footage delivered by the Humane Society in its case against the practices of Hallmark/Westland. Be warned: Not for the squeamish, especially if you’re a meat-eater.

  • Web Link

    Video Link: A CNN account of the Jerry Sandusky case

    We have had a close look at this story in our text, and we have tried to assess the performance of Penn State in its potential cover-up. This clip presents the basics of the Sandusky drama in a pretty unbiased fashion, and it offers a good supplement to our discussion in the text.

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    Web Link: New York Times article on Goldman Sachs

    Our text’s discussion of Goldman Sachs singles out two executives who were “bailed out” in its metldown–Jon Winkelried and Gregory Palm. There is a footnote referring to this particular article from the New York Times, and I thought it would be of interest to have access to it here, since the issue touches on so much that seems corrupt in our corporate culture, at least in the eyes of many.

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