In the beginning, ethics classes were just a requirement for the Eller College of Management’s accreditation. However, it did not take long for Professor Paul Melendez to realize they could be much more. They were an opportunity to address what sometimes seems a daily deluge of corporate wrongdoing. Melendez is the EthicsPoint distinguished lecturer in business ethics and founder of the University of Arizona Center for Leadership Ethics within the Eller College. The Center’s goal is to promote lifelong ethical decision-making. They pursue it through working with people at various stages of life, from young people in the K-12 community, all the way up to corporate executives.
The High School Ethics Forum
A cornerstone of the K-12 programs is the annual High School Ethics Forum. Started in 2006 for Tucson area high schools, its success was immediate and now there are forums in Phoenix and Los Angeles. These daylong events are organized and facilitated by Eller students who are members of Eller Board of Honor and Integrity, the student outreach arm of the Center for Leadership Ethics. Participants, mostly high school seniors, examine case studies written by Melendez, who also provides an ethical framework for the cases. The student teams discuss and develop responses, scenarios and solutions. The students, numbering between 75 and 100 at each forum, share their reasoning and conclusions at the end of the day.
The topics are always timely. In 2010, the participants discussed the ethics of employers using Facebook in their hiring process. Another discussion focused on the financial and ethical ramifications of walking away from a mortgage.
Amanda Takes the Lead
Amanda Wacker is an undergraduate and president of Eller Board of Honor and Integrity. She believes the high school event is particularly crucial because students begin to understand that, “Ethics is very important and that any decision has ramifications for many third parties….there is rarely a perfect decision in which everyone wins.”
Through the program, says Wacker, high school students begin to learn that ethics are not the same thing as right and wrong.
“There are many shades of grey in ethics,” she says, “and many decisions may be right.”
Wacker notes that her participation has helped her both professionally and personally.
“With the financial meltdown in 2008, ethics is important in the marketplace. Many recruiters are very impressed by my participation in a voluntary club about ethics,” she says. She has discussed her role with the Center with Goldman Sachs, Vanguard and Edward Jones. As of mid-November 2011, she has accepted an offer with Goldman Sachs.
Gaining Insights, Creating Change
For Melendez, the Center for Leadership Ethics is accomplishing its goals and certainly living up to his expectations.
“Ethics can become part of corporate culture. I don’t think we can begin early enough to stress the importance of ethical decision-making.,” he says. “In my experience, one of the most effective ways to stimulate and maintain discussion is to allow peer-to-peer interaction as opposed to a professor standing at the front of the room lecturing. I’m amazed at how intelligent and insightful the students are.”