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Integrating Ethics into Babson’s Undergraduate Curriculum

A team of business and liberal arts professors begins to integrate ethics across Babson’s undergraduate curriculum

By Dan DiPiro

One evening, a new Babson first-year student spends several hours reading through an ethical decision-making framework based on the moral philosophies of Kant, Aristotle, Mill, and a few other great thinkers. This framework is, essentially, a step-by-step guide for thinking through decisions. As she studies the framework, the student uses it to think through a personal decision regarding a friend. It takes the student some time to follow the steps laid out by the framework, but the process helps her clarify the problem she’s having with her friend, and evaluate, from various ethical perspectives, several courses of action.

Throughout the student’s first year, each of her professors encourages her to use this same framework for thinking through decisions. As a sophomore, she uses the framework to analyze business cases, role-playing, and simulation exercises. In her junior and senior years, she continues to use the framework in various business and liberal arts classes. By graduation day, she has used the framework many times, inside and outside of school, to think through all sorts of decisions. She is so familiar with the framework that using it has become second nature to her, something she does quickly and adeptly, almost instinctually. The framework has become an integral part of her thinking.

During the last year, a committee of Babson business and liberal arts professors envisioned just such a learning experience as this one. In November, the Committee for Ethics in the Curriculum unveiled, in the form of two new readings, its new ethical decision-making framework. Now the committee is beginning to integrate that framework across the College’s undergraduate curriculum.

Babson has offered ethics courses for more than 50 years, and ethical discussions always have cropped up, as they will, in all corners of campus. Until now, however, Babson professors have had no single conceptual framework with which to coordinate a consistent integration of ethics. Now that they’ve created this framework, committee members say they want to foster an ethics conversation that will span business and liberal arts classes through all four undergraduate years. If students are formally exposed to ethics only through stand-alone ethics courses, committee members say, these students may come to believe that ethics may be switched on in one situation and off in another.

“Ethics is so important that we all need to be teaching it,” says committee member and the Murata Professor of Ethics in Business James Hoopes. “Ethics is everybody’s turf.”

The Framework

The committee’s two new documents explain an ethical decision-making framework based on the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill. The framework will give students philosophical knowledge and analytical skills for ethical decision making in and out of the workplace. “The documents are meant to give students a thorough decision-making process that considers all stakeholders and all possible impacts,” says Walter H. Carpenter Distinguished Professor Michael Fetters, who oversees the committee’s work.

The two new readings are A Framework for Ethical Decision Making and Approaches to Ethical Decision Making. Short enough to be read in one sitting, each document addresses, essentially, the same material. The committee produced two versions in order to make the framework adaptable to various classroom situations (availability of class time, students’ familiarity with the framework, etc.).

“I think the documents are good tools,” says Hoopes. “They have real ethics in them, real philosophy.”

Associate Professor of Technology & Operations Management Kate McKone-Sweet says, “The new tools are definitely an improvement. Babson has never before had a formal approach to building ethics into the curriculum.”

According to the committee’s plan, all Babson first-year students will work with the new ethics readings in the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship, Foundations of Business Law, and the First-Year Experience, a seminar. As sophomores and juniors in the Intermediate Program, they will continue to work with the readings. Finally, as juniors and seniors, they will use the readings in various business and liberal arts electives. The strength of this thorough integration lies both in the students’ using the framework repeatedly, and in their using it across various business and liberal arts classes.

“Every Babson student will work with the ethics documents several times,” says Hoopes. “The repetition will give students a better memory of the material. They’ll be more likely to stop and think when confronted with an ethical problem.”

“Our graduates will know the framework,” says Fetters. “They’ll know how to use it, and they’ll feel comfortable applying it in all situations.”