Temple Times Online Edition
    SEPTEMBER 15, 2005
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Fox helps students navigate ‘Slippery Slope’

Senior theater majors Laura Rieben (left) and Scott Sversky (center), and Aelon Porat, a junior management and information science and risk insurance major, put on a show for undergraduates as part of The Fox School’s new ethics curriculum. Professor of legal studies Terry Halbert (front) helped design the program to actively engage students in thinking about ethical issues.

Meet Brian, a young, mildly successful middle manager at a private equity firm. Fresh-faced and eager to succeed, Brian is one day asked to hide some non-business expenses incurred by his boss from the firm’s auditors. On one hand, Brian weighs the ethical and legal concerns. On the other, he weighs the promises given him of benefits and advancement if he plays ball.

Eventually, he decides he will do it.

Freeze. Did Brian break the law? Or was the “spirit” of certain laws simply violated? What’s the difference between law breaking and value-breaking?

These were the questions posed to business students on Aug. 30 when The Fox School of Business kicked off its new ethics curriculum.

Temple undergraduates performed a play, “Scenes From the Slippery Slope,” based on the real-life experience of a young manager named Brian at a private equity firm who was pressured into unethical decisions. At key points, the play stopped and the students were faced with a number of ethical questions and encouraged to discuss their thoughts.

“He’s just being compensated for his trust,” one student said. “He’s moving up in the company and being accepted into the inner circle; he’s looking out for himself.”

“He’s breaking the law,” another countered. “He’s covering up for his company’s illegal actions. He’s hurting himself.”

The play, which was originally written for corporations to perform for their employees and has been performed for Columbia University’s M.B.A. program, was designed to teach students that at any time they have the opportunity to make the ethical decision.

But “Scenes From the Slippery Slope” is just one reason why this innovative new program is special. Fox is one of only a handful of schools across the nation requiring an ethics course for their undergraduate students. The need for an intensive ethics curriculum has never been more glaring.

As Marjorie Kelly wrote in the fall 2003 issue of Business Ethics, “In the wake of recent ethics scandals, one might imagine that business schools would be deepening their attention to business ethics. But at many schools the reverse is happening.”

Not here. The new, twice-a-week, three-credit course’s model is unique: Once a week, students meet in a large class of around 200 students for lively guest lectures, films and debates. On the other day, students meet in a small class of about 25 to talk intensively about what happened in the larger class.

“Basically, my goal is to stay out of it and let the students carry the ball,” said Terry Halbert, professor of legal studies and one of the new curriculum’s designers.

She and fellow faculty members Lynne Andersson, Norm Baglini, Don Wargo and John Deckop, along with two doctoral students, Lisa Calvano and Sridevi Shivarajan, were aware throughout the process that a successful ethics course would have to be highly participatory. As a team, and with support from the Fox Dean’s Office, they persuaded their colleagues that ethics education should be required at Fox. They began this effort at the time of the Enron scandal, more than three years ago.

“It’s not enough to simply talk about the unethical things people do,” Halbert said. “You can’t teach people not to be sleazy. We assume that most people — and that includes most of our students — are good, decent people with honorable goals. But even really good people will cross the line when there is a lot of pressure. We’re trying to simulate the pressures they will encounter someday and give them a chance to think about how they will react before they are really under the gun. We’re aiming to strengthen their best instincts.”

- By Mike Benner

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