An argument for ethics instruction

How to be Ethical (Photo by: Amanda Martinez)

Today we live in an ‘act-first, evaluate-later’ world. Skim through your memory for major events in the media the past few months. How often can you remember a headline breaking, with people immediately taking action of some sort, only for further details to later emerge? Most highly politicized stories come to mind, for instance, remember when Florida was massively overstating COVID-positive numbers.

The fact-of-the-matter is that in any world where social media exists almost unchecked, innocence until proven guilty may only apply to the criminal trial of an individual. Furthermore, the concept that an individual can grow and learn from mistakes and interact with society seems as forgotten to the public as it is to the criminal justice system. Before I explore this idea any further, I must clarify this is by no means a defense of any individuals or actions alluded to, rather a commentary on the wildfire of groupthink acting before rational thought and leaving the landscape charred rather than fertile to regrow.

I’ll say it outright: as an individual, business student or professional, your history will never leave you and you may never have the chance to correct it.

Here’s a prime example. I grew up watching a man I knew as Papa John advertise his pizzas, but he is no longer found anywhere near the company. Clearly his actions were not remotely acceptable, but it is slightly concerning that he was removed from the company entirely.. As I find it hard to believe that his removal helped teach any sort of lesson, but rather I fear by punishing then forgetting, the public voice may be leaving an individual to become more entrenched in whatever ideas they may harbor.

Another great example, as the Black Lives Matter movement dominated headlines in June, the Aunt Jemima brand came under fire, ultimately being removed entirely. As NBC quoted parent brand Quaker Oats, the company acknowledged the racially insensitive and disgusting origins, however, they had made improvements to modernize the brand. Despite that, reading the Quaker Oats statements alone, it is obvious that they are not confident they could find a socially-approved image, as history cannot be overlooked. Further, Quaker stated they, “...must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our customers’ expectations.”

I’d like to pose the question of what is the end goal of such movements? Obviously to remove racist imagery, but once we’ve done that? It is a logical fear that these movements may be irreversibly setting us onto a track of zero diversity for fear of misrepresentation.

Without question, established companies are risk-averse as they are trying to create value for their shareholders, who loathe risk in what should be a safe stock – such as an established cereal brand. This leads me to believe no company, sports team or organization will choose a person of color of any background to represent their brand. Ultimately, this leaves products more white-washed than ever. Imagine only a breakfast aisle in the future, lined side-by-side with stereotypical Quakers, Irish-Leprechauns, Pirate Captains even the plump, white Pillsbury Dough Boy. Or, turn your eye to sports dominated by teams where the last remaining human-based mascots are Caucasian for fear of depicting any other race.

Certainly, the prospective removal of cultures from sport or other business entirely saddens me as it can be used to beautiful effect when done correctly, see: New Zealand All Black Haka, which allows people of all races to carry the banner of the Maori and represent them on a global stage.

Now, how does this corporate fear affect you? After all, I said it did earlier.

The facts are simple. Companies in recent years have already shown us that a business will look to take the less risk option when it comes to public opinion. Translated: a company will prefer a stable and safe candidate to a potentially risky candidate with a questionable background in almost every scenario.

With that, how can you guarantee yourself to be the safest bet a company can take? Well, Bill Daniels, the namesake for our college and founder of the Daniels Fund, was onto something with his articulated support of ethics teaching. He knew that in order to create an ethically moral future students need to be taught not merely on how to act, but how to think. If you are reading this article today as a student at the University of Denver, you already have a great start and I encourage you to look to invest in Ethics coursework.

As a business student in DU, it is required to take LGST 2000, which is Foundations of Business Law. Within this course roughly 30% of the course time is dedicated to the study of Ethics. Past this however, DU offers many more options including a minor in Business Ethics. Or, if you do not have the time in your schedule to pursue a minor, there is an Ethics Fellows program that offers many great opportunities to get engaged. Ultimately, it will be positive to see many other schools embark on such as focus in ethics as it will only increase in value to businesses.

In this day, the value of ethics cannot be overstated. By being an ethical individual, the mark of a great candidate, employee or leader will follow.

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