Ethics in the Serious Business of Living
By Michelle Emery
The number-cooking and money-grabbing accusations against corporations such as Enron Corp., Arthur Andersen, WorldCom Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc., ImClone, Tyco and others make even the most optimistic of observers recognize the absence of ethical decision-making.
Eleanor Dunfey-Freiburger, SNHU's first appointee to the Papoutsy Endowed Chair in Business Ethics, is dedicated to promoting ethical the need for ethical decision-making in business and systemic change, she added.
It is reasonable to conclude that ethics is absent in the wake of the recent scandals rocking the nation's largest corporations, yet Dunfey-Freiburger believes there are businesses that engage in ethical decision-making, and that many employees and CEOs wish to do what is right.
"A lack of ethics at the top very quickly gives the message that it is OK to cut corners, fudge numbers -- whatever it takes to show profit. So are all of these companies creating an ever-greater climate of unethical business practices? It's possible," she said. "However, it seems there has been a human cry from employees, managers and others not willing to spend their professional lives in this way."
Dunfey-Freiburger points to the whistleblowers who gathered the courage to question their corporate leaders and come forward.
"It only takes a few to stand up and make that difference," she said.
There is additional proof of ethical decision-making and makers in business. Dunfey-Freiburger points to the Caux Round Table, a group of business leaders from North America, Japan and Europe that promotes principled business leadership worldwide. More locally, New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR), a business network that includes Timberland, Northeast Delta Dental, Cirtronics and many smaller companies, adheres to the belief that "people, principles and profits are inseparably linked."
The stock boom of the '90s may be one reason for the decline in corporate ethics and the rise in irresponsible, short-term decision-making, because it supported an idea that there was a long road ahead of nothing but profit and growth. Corporate leaders who wanted to believe that idea excluded the input of those with different information and viewpoints, then made rash and short-term decisions based on the false reality they created for themselves, Dunfey-Freiburger said.
Part of the problem is what we consider "success," she said.
"How do we measure success? Does it always mean unbridled growth?" she said. Wealth is an important measure of success, but shouldn't be the only measure, or business becomes "a high-stakes game" where corporate leaders seek profits without responsibility, forget the consequences of acquisition and lose any sense of community.
"Humans have had this challenge forever -- trying to discern true success from superficial instant gratification," she said. "It's part of our human condition."
Dunfey-Freiburger points out that the scandals of today are familiar the savings and loan and insider trading scandals of the '80s had people screaming reform 12 years ago. Things did improve, but today's events surpass those in scope, number and seriousness, she said, and point to the dire need for systemic rather than piecemeal change. Even in the last 12 years, "loopholes that were allowed to creep in are coming back to haunt us," she said.
'Capitalism requires confidence, and confidence comes from a combination of integrity and regulation to assure that integrity. If we do not accept the responsibility of serious change in the way we do business, we're risking all the good that capitalism has brought us," she said. "Perhaps this is a wake-up call to consider
the dual bottom line. Only profits with responsibility can secure a healthy capitalism in the long run."
This is where
ethical decision-making must enter the equation, she said. Business ethics is a process of dealing with dilemmas, and the very nature of dilemmas is that there are no perfect solutions, she said.
"Capitalism requires confidence, and confidence comes from a combination of integrity and regulation to assure that integrity. If we do not accept the responsibility of serious change in the way we do business, we're risking all the good that capitalism has brought us," Dunfey-Freiburger says.
"Business ethics gives us a process within which we question all perspectives of a dilemma and make good-faith, responsible decisions," she said.
For example, executives need to surround themselves with people who won't automatically agree with them, people who will look at long-term consequences over short-term gains, she added.
Though integrity cannot be regulated, the current upheavals show it is time to take another look at regulations -- or the lack thereof -- that have allowed them to happen, Dunfey-Freiburger said. It also is time to "sharpen our methods of prosecuting these types of white-collar crimes because there is great fear that these people will walk away with our money without being prosecuted," she added.
Dunfey-Freiburger, a professor of philosophy in the School of Liberal Arts before being named chair, has taught at SNHU for 18 years and has been the recipient of the university's Excellence in Teaching Award. As the university's first business ethics chair, she is addressing on campus and in the community the very issues at the heart of the recent corporate investigations.
Her work is a bridge that spans the university's three schools. She is taking a leadership role in the academic and business worlds, and describes her work as fostering "ethics in the business of living, both public and private," based on the tenet that one cannot separate the personal from the professional. The chair was created with the intention of using ancient and contemporary classics to illustrate ethical decision-making.
The idea is reflected in mainstream management strategies. For example, Aristotle's model of virtue ethics, which provides a guide to measuring the best way to act in particular situations, is being used in global and national business, Dunfey-Freiburger says.
Dunfey-Freiburger has begun several initiatives within the SNHU curriculum and the surrounding business community, including offering programs addressing such issues as violence in sports and the Enron debacle. The chair has given several presentations, including "Here Today -- Here Tomorrow: Leaders Staying Connected" for the Alumni Leaders Corps, and a keynote address to the New Hampshire Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriters entitled "Is Ethics a Casualty? Ways to Insure Ethical Decision Making."
Dunfey-Freiburger also is working with faculty to develop a course on "Heroics and Hubris: Leadership Lessons from the Classics for the Business of Living Today" for the Honors Program and a Special Topics graduate course.
She also works with colleagues to identify ethical issues and, when applicable, help introduce a study of relevant classics into the curricula of certain courses. For example, she is helping introduce a case-method approach to "Ethics and College Student Life" within the required Freshman Experience Seminar course for first-year students.
The key is to focus on the process of decision-making and using what can be learned from the lessons of human conduct and integrity found in the classics when grappling with difficult decisions.
"Dealing with ethics is," she says, "the most important business of living."
Michelle Emery is Associate director of Communications & Media Relations at Southern New Hampshire University and Co-editor, SNHU Alumni Magazine, in which this article first appeared. For more on Southern New Hampshire University, visit www.snhu.edu.
Behind the SNHU Business Ethics Chair
A glance around the Portsmouth office of philanthropists Christos ('57) and Mary Papoutsy shows the importance that business ethics, Hellenism and the Greco-Roman classics play in their lives.
On the walls are awards for their promotion of Hellenism, a body of ideals associated with ancient Greece. Bookshelves are lined with such titles as "Sharing the Wealth," "Managing Business Ethics," "Approaches to Greek Myth" and "Confronting Corruption: The Elements of a National Integrity System."
According to the Papoutsys, designated Business Ethics Chair Eleanor Dunfey-Freiburger and members of the business community, the Greco-Roman classics are rich with lessons that can guide us through our personal -- and professional -- lives. This philosophy spawned the creation of Southern New Hampshire University's first endowed chair, the Papoutsy Endowed Chair in Business Ethics, which was formed with the couple's input and their generous $1 million gift.
The overarching goal is to integrate programs in business ethics throughout the undergraduate and graduate curricula and to promote ethics awareness for students, business leaders and others in the community.
"We don't want just a course," said Christos Papoutsy, who received an honorary doctor of laws from te university in 1991. "We want everyone teaching ethics. We're fortunate that we have a dedicated, committed, experienced person such as Eleanor Dunfey-Freiburger."
The creation of the business ethics chair is a milestone for SNHU.
"I'm particularly pleased to see that our first chair comes to us from an alum, and in the discipline upon which this institution was founded - business," said SNHU President Richard A. Gustafson. He added that he is equally pleased that the chair allows for the blending of the liberal arts -- what some would call the more abstract aspect of our lives - with applied ethical practices in business.
The creation of the business ethics chair could lead to the establishment of future chairs in other disciplines.
"To have an endowed chair speaks to the maturity of the institution," Gustafson said. "It's a pace-setter for us."