Theory Meets Practice: Executives in the Ethics Classroom Let’s Compare Notes!

by Diane L. Swanson, PhD    Kansas State University

theory-73181_1280Why this blog?

I am sharing my experience in team teaching ethics with a corporate executive because I want to hear from others who have done something similar. It is difficult to find such experiences documented anywhere; therefore, it would be ideal if Academy of Management members would share their thoughts on this subject here.

How my team teaching with an executive started:  

Approximately four years ago, I started team teaching my graduate professional ethics elective in our college of business with a recently retired senior executive.  This came about because the then dean of our college stopped me in the hall one day and asked if I wanted to team teach with our newly arrived executive in residence.

I usually pause for at least a few minutes before making any decision, not to mention one that affects my classes. However in this case, I quickly said “yes.”  Although I hadn’t yet met this gentleman, the dean told me of his stellar career with a Fortune 500 company and of his sincere interest in business ethics education.   I also knew that he was still serving on three boards of directors.

That was enough for me.

To make a long story short, this executive and I soon met to plan our experiment in team teaching. This coming fall will be our fourth semester team teaching this graduate course.

In due time, the dean put me in touch with yet another executive who helped me create an ethics teaching module for my MBA triple bottom line class.  Soon afterwards, a law partner of a large global firm started flying to campus twice a year to give lectures on ethics in my undergraduate and graduate classes and to our college’s professional advantage students.

I can attest to the advantages of these arrangements, especially the benefits from the team teaching arrangement.

Benefits of the team teaching:

  • The very presence of this executive in the classroom speaks volumes to students about the importance of ethics in the workplace.
  • The executive boosts this subject’s relevance by giving concrete examples of how and why ethical behavior in the workplace matters. Student teaching evaluations show as much.
  • Students are looking for role models. They want to take advice from a successful business executive, especially when it is given face-to-face in an ethics classroom.
  • What this executive has added to the class has influenced the topics covered in this course. Notably, given my teaching partner’s experience as a former senior vice president of a Fortune 500 firm and his role as a current board member for three organizations, I have added material on corporate governance to the course.
  • This executive has touched the lives of students in ways he may never know. I have heard from former students who tell me that their interactions with him made a positive difference in their professional lives. Three of them have offered to give back in kind someday. There could be a chain reaction taking shape!
  • The executive tells me that he enjoys helping students and giving back to society in this role.
  • I continually learn about developments in practice, especially those that affect the C-suite.

Our method in brief:  

My teaching partner is active in our classroom. (I now think of it as our classroom!)  He attends classes, meets with students in groups, and gives them thoughtful feedback on their presentations.  The method that works best for us is that I teach the models and then ask for his comments and observations.  Examples of the questions I pose to him include: How is this model relevant to practice in your view?  How is it not?  Could the model be altered to address practice better?

The most interesting conversations begin.  Essentially, we engage in looking at the models and material more critically.   Since this elective is just as much a course in critical thinking as it is a course in professional ethics, these conversations are a real plus.

Let’s compare notes!

Again, please feel free to use this blog site to weigh in on this topic. It would be nice to create some notes on best practices!

 

Diane L. Swanson, PhD
Professor of Management and Edgerly Family Endowed Chair of Business Administration
Founding Chair, Business Ethics Education Initiative
Kansas State University http://cba.k-state.edu/departments-initiatives/business-ethics/index.html
Co-editor: Advancing Business Ethics Education (2008) and Toward Assessing Business Ethics Education (2011)