Students create/share international business ethics cases
Published: January 24, 2018 / Author: Christine Cox
Editor’s Note: Story Update (May 10, 2018): The International Business Ethics Case Studies Project is now live. More information about the project, as well as the cases, can be viewed on research portal CurateND’s website.
Matthew is a business manager at an international mining company in Indonesia. Increasingly, workers are showing symptoms of typhoid, and absences are surging due to the exposure to the potentially deadly bacteria. With workers out, business is suffering.
Conversely, Matthew worries about people showing up sick and spreading the disease.
L-R: Cynthia Tran, Charlie Trense, Steven Campillo, Samantha Walker
He is struggling to deal with the ramifications for his company, its stakeholders and the workers. He’s facing pressure from his superiors. And he’s mulling his ethical responsibilities.
Should he arrange for the company to offer vaccines?
If so, who should pay? The workers don’t have extra income and often mistrust Western medicine, due to indigenous practices and problematic past experiences.
Should he recommend the company move out of Indonesia altogether? If so, what impact would that have on the workers and their families?
While this scenario might seem distant to a college student in the United States, Charlie Trense, a finance junior at the Mendoza College of Business, knows it’s valuable to examine such international business ethics questions even as a student.
“Thinking about these questions prepares you for the future, whether it’s for my internship this summer or down the road in a career,” he says. “It’s helpful to say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen a business ethics situation similar to this before and I have an idea of the best way to respond.’
“After diving into these situations, I’m more likely to respond ethically in real life.”
STUDENT-DRIVEN CASE STUDIES
The story of Matthew and the typhoid outbreak is actually a case study that Trense and two classmates — ITM junior Cynthia Tran and Emily Seranko (ACCT ’17) — developed as an example of an international business ethics problem.
They were among nine Mendoza undergraduates who volunteered to write the cases after completing Introduction to Business Ethics in fall 2016. For the second year in a row, instructor Jessica McManus Warnell, a business ethics researcher, invited student teams to create case studies to potentially publish and share with other colleges and universities.
Each scenario is a multifaceted, thought-provoking story with teaching notes to spur discussion about ethical complexities that arise with global business dealings.
One of the other cases introduces Greg, a community engagement leader in Angola who must balance the financial needs of a firm with the welfare of a community. A third case centers around Kevin, a bank employee trying to meet the account quota for the quarter, especially because promotions and layoffs are dependent upon his performance.
Students worked on the cases in spring 2017, guided by McManus and project adviser Joan Dubinsky, a guest lecturer at Mendoza and former chief ethics officer for the United Nations. Cases were modeled on real scenarios, and thanks to Dubinsky’s involvement, students had the opportunity to consult with international experts as they developed the cases. Students also met with several faculty members at Mendoza who advised on specialty areas, such as IPO financing, that allowed them to integrate insights from other business courses. They also met with staff from the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development to reflect real-world challenges of international engagement.
Melissa Paulsen, associate director of education and training programs at the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD), part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, provided additional guidance to the student teams, and NDIGD provided partial financial support for the consultation with Dubinsky.
“It turned out to be very valuable to dive deep into a case and see what it would be like in a particular person’s shoes who is faced with a significant ethical challenge,” Trense says.
This deeper knowledge was exactly the point of the project.
Further, innovative pedagogy, such as students choosing, writing and teaching a topic, and pursuing opportunities for student-faculty interaction outside the classroom, is also a valuable way to reinforce knowledge, she explains. “Cases are ubiquitous in business schools, but we turned the typical model of students responding to a prescribed business dilemma on its head,” McManus says. “Research indicates that business students can articulate theory, define terms and identify concepts, but that there is room for growth in the areas of application and analysis.”
“I hoped to create an opportunity for students to work directly with our practitioner expert and with me to look more closely at the topics we explored in our required ethics course,” she says. “We wanted them to take ownership of the material, activating the type of intrinsic motivation we know can help engage our students.”
INVITATION TO AN ETHICS CONFERENCE
Even though the students thought they were finished with the project last academic year, it turns another opportunity lay in store.
McManus was invited to present the case study project at the International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference at DePaul University’s Institute for Business and Professional Ethics in fall 2017. And she decided to take some students to Chicago with her.
Trense, Tran and accounting juniors Steven Campillo and Samantha Walker applied for and secured funding through the Notre Dame Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Research, allowing them to present their work at the conference.
Their presentation, “Three International Business Ethics Case Studies: A Faculty-Student Collaboration,” was a hit.
“We were the youngest people there, but the audience seemed very interested and professors were asking questions about our case and how we did it,” Trense says. “It made it a really cool experience.
“And one of my takeaways was to understand how my professors go to conferences like this and present research that they’ve been working on. So it gave me insight into the world of academia and made me really interested. It showed me that there are a lot of really smart people researching very important things.”
Trense and the other students also felt gratified to know there is a demand for their cases. “We heard a lot of professors say how they wanted cases similar to ours, that are current and short — four or five pages. It’s excellent that Professor McManus is working to share these resources.”
THE NEXT LEVEL OF SHARING
Beyond the conference, McManus has found an avenue to share the case studies with students and faculty around the world.
She is working with Curate ND, a service of the Hesburgh Libraries that, among other functions, helps share research and other work in an easily discoverable and accessible way.
“We offer these free cases for use by other faculty and students as an alternative to what is currently available, and to reduce some of the barriers to teaching ethics cases,” McManus says. “The cases are relatively brief, multidisciplinary, and can be readily integrated into a variety of courses. McManus expected the six case studies, including three from a previous class, to be posted this spring.
“There is often a sentiment that ‘ethics cases’ belong only in dedicated ethics courses. Here, however, we offer cases that explore supply chain management, international management and finance, business law, human resource management, finance in emerging markets, and other topics,” she adds.
“With the teaching notes we’ve provided, the cases can be taught by non-ethics faculty in a variety of contexts. Contributing to the discussion of critical issues in global business ethics has a place in all business schools. Our students, future leaders, are an important part of the conversation.”
NOTE: McManus and Dubinsky published “Business Students and Faculty on the Same Side of the Desk:Engaged Students and Collaborative Faculty Present Three New International Business Ethics Case Studies” in The Journal of Business Ethics Education (2016).