Faculty panel contemplates morality and business
From AIG and the mortgage meltdown to Bernie Madoff’s greed, everyone, it seems, is talking about ethics in business. Elon University faculty harnessed that interest Tuesday in a panel discussion that debated what role morals should have in the business world, regardless of economic climate.
"Many companies today are focusing on more than just making money,” said Betsy Stevens, a professor of business administration and one of the five panelists. “They have a phrase they call ‘the triple bottom line,’ which refers to people, planet and profits. The strategy today is to pay attention to all three.”
Ed Moore, and adjunct professor of worship at Duke Seminary, moderated the discussion. In addition to Stevens, panelists included:
Scott Gaylord, associate professor of law
Jeffrey C. Pugh, professor of religious studies
Christy Benson, assistant professor of business law
Anthony Weston, professor of philosophy
Several topics emerged during the 90-minute discussion in the LaRose Digital Theatre. Panelists discussed the mortgage crisis and where responsibility rests for bank failures – The banks? Brokers? Homeowners? – or, as Benson described the current mess, “It ends up being a Mexican standoff where everybody blames each other.”
Pugh suggested that society examines its own assumptions about what should drive an economy. “Perhaps we ought to rethink the way we’ve defined rational behavior,” he said, noting that people no longer contemplate how they should live with one another, but rather how to control and manage others. “We are no longer persons shaped by our interactions with the larger community.”
Weston encouraged students to look at morality not just on an individual level but on a systemic level. Good people can work in an immoral system, he said, adding, “I urge you to think about the fact that there are other ways to think about business ethics.”
Gaylord summarized the current economic crisis, and how early actions by banks led to individual inertia: “When it doesn’t touch us directly,” he said of the initial signs of distress, “it’s much easier to not take action.”
The Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and the Elon University Members of Phi Beta Kappa sponsored the discussion.