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  • Integrating Ethics and Corporate Citizenship into the Business Communication Curriculum Dr. LeeAnne G. Kryder University of California, Santa Barbara Since 1997 I have been integrating professional ethics and “corporate citizenship” into undergraduate business communication courses, with positive responses. This paper will examine reasons why I believe ethics and corporate citizenship are legitimate topics in an undergraduate business communication course, and will provide examples of the assignments and resources I have used. Why integrate the topics of Corporate Citizenship and Professional Ethics? Initially I was hesitant to create a curriculum that might seem to impose my values on students. Was it possible to offer ethics readings and assignments without engineering specific solutions that students would feel obliged to deliver? Fortunately, a number of studies by business ethics researchers indicate that the very discussion of ethical issues proves useful to students in forming professional ethical practices. According to these researchers, ethics education should not force standards on students, but should assist students in recognizing ethical issues and developing their existing sensibilities so they can make decisions not simply between right and “wrong” but between right and right. As Michael Davis points out, professionals should “study ethical problems the way generals study old battles” so as to see “the essential facts in the fog of detail.” (1988, p. 57) Given recent national events—notably the Enron scandal and “whistleblowers” in corporations and in the FBI—I have come to believe that the study of professional and organizational ethics, and the development of ethical sensitivity in students, should become a more prominent component in higher education. Fortune magazine’s annual quest to determine the “100 Best Companies to Work For” and “Most Admired Companies” gives us a good sense of what Americans are looking for. In selecting the most admired companies, Fortune evaluated eight attributes; one of these was the company’s “Social Responsibility” or “corporate citizenship” (in addition to Innovativeness, Employee Talent, Use of Corporate Assets, Financial Soundness, Long-term Investment Value, and Quality of Products/Services). American consumers—and investors—now look beyond the numbers, and they no longer assume the credibility of any corporation. “It must be earned.” In these post-Enron times, “we value character and credibility a whole lot more than charisma”(Boyle, 2002). The topics of ethics and corporate citizenship focus on character, values, and what it takes to “do the right thing”—as a professional and as a company. Why not integrate such topics for Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 1
  • consideration in business communication? As Harvard business ethics professor Joseph L. Badaracco Jr. (1997) asserts, ethical problems can raise questions about personal integrity, can create conflicts between responsibilities for others and one’s personal values, and can involve responsibilities a company shares with other groups in society. Integrating professional ethics into business communication courses may help students. According to Alfonso Oddo, Accounting Professor at Niagara University in New York State: “the goal of teaching ethics in the business class should be to get students to recognize ethical issues and to apply their own personal values to resolve the issues” (1997) Further, I share the cautious optimism of Clark and Lattal (1993), authors of Workplace Ethics: Winning the Integrity Revolution, who believe that “ethical change is possible…. clear expectations and consequences designed into the work place can make a profound difference in people’s behavior, including their ethical behavior. Moral leadership, discussion of ethical dilemmas…training sessions, statements of corporate values…all can make a most significant difference” (pp 2, 3). Why is education about ethics and corporate citizenship important? Perhaps a class incorporating ethics can help provide an “antidote” to the modern business trends of mergers, layoffs, outsourcing, and globalization that alienate individuals from the human implications of corporate decisions and systems. Modern management and professional practices can objectify human beings, as is charged by critics who have implicated the accounting profession for its role in the Holocaust. According to Dr. Ken McPhail (1998), this charge against accountants is “primarily related to the technical, mathematical nature of accounting and its ability to dehumanize individuals.” McPhail argues that “emotion should be introduced into accounting education and in particular emotional commitment to other individuals should be encouraged” (p. 279). Further, McPhail suggests that requiring a business ethics course might “rehumanize” accountancy, engendering a “sense of empathy for and moral commitment” towards others (pp. 280, 282). A recent study of accounting students exposed to the AICPA Code of Conduct in an auditing course, indicated that “exposure to the code not only influenced students’ ethical development, but also improves their ability to select the ethical course of action in resolving an ethical dilemma” (Green & Weber, p. 786). I have expanded my interpretation of teaching business ethics to include teaching about corporate social responsibility or “corporate citizenship.” I believe that this topic is often more accessible than “ethics” to business students. Later, as students begin to expect more out of business organizations (to serve as positive forces for good), they can then expect more out of the employees and managers in that organization—and, hopefully, more out of themselves as professionals. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 2
  • Why a writing course? Our university (UCSB) does not have a business school. Although we have a nationally recognized accounting program, our students can only minor in accounting. Their degree is in Business Economics, and most of their required classes are highly theoretical. No course in business ethics or organizational behavior is offered for these students. The business communication courses that we offer --“Writing for Economics” and “Writing for Accounting” are required for the Business Economics degree. Our writing courses are typically interdisciplinary and stress critical thinking, and all include oral communication as well as a variety of written genres. Because students must summarize and analyze articles, I have supplied articles about corporate citizenship and professional ethics. Students must work on a collaborative report or proposal that requires research using both primary and secondary sources. This project can be focused on corporate citizenship and professional ethics. In short, our business communication courses lend themselves to these topics because some text is needed anyway for critical thinking, research, writing, and oral communication tasks. Because UCSB’s writing teachers teach in specific disciplines (mine is business and engineering), they are probably as “equipped” as any business economics teacher who decides to incorporate ethics and social responsibility into his/her course. In fact, because so many business teachers have no training in business ethics and often are uncomfortable with more interactive discussion-based courses, many writing teachers might be even better suited to teach this material; see assertions by Krohn (1985) and by Golen, Powers & Titkemeyer (1985). If a writing teacher is willing to commit to such a focus, I believe that the following course assignments and suggested readings should be enough for a strong start. Furthermore, numerous members of our professional society—the Association for Business Communication—have written articles suggesting both the validity and possible methods for incorporating ethics into composition courses. See the Journal of Business Communication special issues, with editors P.V. Lewis(1990) and S. Ralston (1997), and the online bibliography compiled by Dr. Linda Brown (1994). I believe that raising student awareness of potential issues and examining guidelines for making ethical decisions is a service to students, and to the business community. Instead of asking students to enroll in a quarter-long business ethics course, a business communication course provides an excellent way to integrate ethics into the curriculum without alienating students (see Joanne B. Cuilla,1985, who believes that many business students consider ethics to be a useless abstract area of philosophy and/or an obstacle to free competition). Indeed, a number of scholars argue that ethics integrated into the business curriculum is more effective than offering a one- time, standalone course. Having to research corporate ethics and professional ethical decisions helps students to prepare for their futures, and to appreciate what some exemplary organizations and individuals are doing. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 3
  • Typically our students are amazed that business can be both “green” and profitable; too often, our students have already resigned themselves to either making money or doing good! (These impressions, unfortunately, are similar to those noted in the 1985 JBC article, “How to Teach Ethics in a Basic Business Communications Class,” by Golen, Powers & Titkemeyer). Finally, by integrating the study of business ethics and corporate social responsibility into our curriculum, we teach students the role that ethical corporate and professional communication can play in business success. Indeed, attention to corporate reputation requires attention to the importance of words (Argenti & Forman, 2002, ch. 4). Without strong credos, developed and presented by an articulate leader, improvement of a company’s culture and role in society remains an unrealistic quest (Goldberg, 1997). Sample Assignments and Sources A variety of assignments can work to assist students in their exploration of professional ethics and corporate social responsibility. I will identify my learning objectives, describe three assignments, and list possible sources teachers can use or adapt for classroom use. Learning objectives Specific cognitive objectives for students include the following: 1. Become familiar with ethical issues that they will likely encounter in their professional lives and the ways in which they might apply ethical principles to their professional lives 2. Know what resources are available, or should be available, to them—especially from their professional organizations and employer when they confront ethical dilemmas 3. Demonstrate written and oral competency in clearly explaining ethical concerns, identifying possible options in resolving these concerns, and determining a resolution to ethical problems Further non-cognitive objectives include increased student confidence that they will be capable of both (1) recognizing ethical issues and making ethical decisions, and (2) retaining their personal and professional integrity while serving various stakeholders. Assignments The first assignment is to summarize an article in writing and in a 5-minute informal oral presentation to a group of fellow students. Sometimes I provide a list of abstracts to articles or book chapters about corporate and professional ethical codes, outstanding corporations that are committed to social and environmental causes, ethical challenges faced by employees, etc. Each student then selects one article, reads the entire article, summarizes it and reports on it to other students. An alternative I’ve used provided lists of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and Business Ethics’ “Best Corporate Citizens.” I have students select one company from each list Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 4
  • and examine each company’s website, with the intent of summarizing attributes that mark each company as “a good place to work.” Besides the written summary/comparison, each student reports his/her findings to a small group of fellow students. This first assignment allows students to become familiar with several exemplary businesses, and to begin sorting out what attributes they would like to see in the future organization they create or work for. As a class, we begin to identify positive actions, while practicing research, writing, and oral presenting skills. The second assignment is collaborative, with the students in teams of four or five, working on a “scenario” that I’ve created. Often that scenario asks the students to serve as consultants to a client who wants to set up an ethics program and an ethical corporate culture. These consultants must review articles on corporate ethics programs, and determine what are the key elements in a successful program. That is, they report descriptively about what persons and organizations do, and then interpret and recommend normatively what people and organizations should do (See Reinsch, 1997, p. 224). In recent years, with pre-professional students in our “Writing for Accounting” and our “Writing for Engineering” classes, I have used a short case with an ethical decision; this gives me an opportunity to discuss corporate and professional codes of conduct, and how these might be useful to guide one’s ethical decision. Several years ago I developed a case about software piracy and had students conduct surveys of other students’ software usage and knowledge about software licensing. The student teams had to create an educational pamphlet and training plan for their client’s employees to learn about the ethical and legal problems of stealing software. With this second assignment I will usually supply four or five articles to “jumpstart” their research. Within two or three weeks the students need to provide their client with both a memo report (given to me to grade) and an oral report (given to our class). This assignment requires research and collaborative efforts as the team synthesizes the research findings and develops recommendations for their client. The memo reports are often three to five pages long, with several attachments. It takes additional effort for students to refine their report for a collaborative ten to fifteen minute oral report. The final assignment is also collaborative and results in both a sustained research report, or business plan, and a formal oral presentation. This project takes much of the quarter (at least five or six weeks) and results in a document of 25-40 pages. As teams of four or five members, the students will collaboratively select their topics, determine if they will create a business plan or report on their research, and then write and edit the written document. They also will prepare and deliver a collaborative oral presentation. For the reports in past years students have researched the ethical challenges of technology, merits of social investments, dilemmas faced by “whistleblowers,” and the test of workplace ethics and corporate communication in the Challenger launch decision. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 5
  • If the students decide to write a business plan, I challenge them to establish a “green business” or a socially responsible business. For example, one student team proposed a company called “Ecolibrium” that served as both a consultant and purchasing source for other companies trying to purchase environmentally-sensitive products or behave in a more environmentally-friendly manner. Another company was called “Higher Motives: Quality Clothes with Moral Foundations,” and promised products made without sweatshop labor and with only organically- grown fabric. Although these businesses may be highly idealistic, they are useful efforts for students to apply what they have learned from the earlier assignments and readings. Furthermore, according to Entrepreneur magazine, even smaller businesses want to demonstrate good corporate citizenship (see Blanchard, 1998, and Stodder, 1998). Sources: Readings, Websites, Teacher Training When I began integrating issues of ethics and corporate social responsibility in my writing classes, I was intrigued with the promise of a particular Harvard Business Review article by Michael Porter and Claas van der Linde(1995), “Green and Competitive: Ending the Stalemate.” The environment’s well-being is a defining societal and business challenge. Most business students see only a distinct polarization of choices: pro-business OR pro-environment. In an effort to explore this important topic and the possibility of compromise (a market-based environmentalism), I introduced a theme of “business and the environment” in my business communication courses. The highly respected Harvard Business Review was showing business students a different expectation for business! Soon after this, The Body Shop CEO, Anita Roddick, was a guest speaker at UCSB. She described the corporate citizenship her company practices, and I was impressed enough to research more about her company and her CERES affiliates (like Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia). I discovered an excellent book that provided numerous models of corporate citizenship from financially successful firms, Companies with a Conscience (Scott & Rothman, 1992). A film, developed by the Online Business Ethics Certificate Program, that focuses on the stellar corporate citizenship of New Belgium Brewing Company (2002) became another inspiration for both teachers and students. Because I was also teaching engineering students, I encountered the tragic story of the Challenger launch decision and engineer Roger Boisjoly’s role in it. Because Boisjoly believes strongly that students can learn from the ethical mistakes in the past, he has developed materials (like his website with original documents accessible) to help others see what communication surrounded—and might have prevented-- this disaster. Both the websites of the Online Ethics Center (2003) and the Association for Teachers of Technical Writing (2000) provide excellent case materials. I also recommend some specific articles (Winsor 1988; Elliot 1990) and a book chapter (Tufte, 1997), along with the film GroupThink (1991), for teachers who are willing to incorporate one case report into their business communication course. The Winsor, Elliot, and Tufte sources focus specifically on communication weaknesses that contributed to the Challenger disaster. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 6
  • As my research expanded from corporate social responsibility to professional ethics, I was able to tap ABC’s website and the excellent annotated bibliography gathered by Dr. Linda Ginter Brown (1994), “Teaching Ethics in Business Communication courses.” This source, as well as the two 1990 and 1997 special issues from the Journal of Business Communication, gave me the professional “endorsement” to continue integrating ethics and corporate citizenship into all of my professional writing courses. Another source that has been of particular value is the online Business Ethics journal. And from that, I learned of the distance-learning course in Business Ethics offered by Dr. O.C. Ferrell and the College of Business at Colorado State University. I took that course in fall of 2002, long after I’d begun to research on my own about corporate citizenship and business ethics. The course materials (including Ferrell’s 2002 textbook, Business Ethics) were excellent, and so were my colleagues and teacher. Many of the course participants were employed as corporate ethics officers, and the online discussions were insightful and provided a unique education. We were able to work on a number of ethics cases, and discussed the then-new Sarbanes-Oxley Act. So, my advice to other business communication teachers is to start small (one assignment, with four or five associated readings, or use of the film GroupThink with the communication articles associated with the Challenger case) and learn as you go. Ronald R. Sims’ (2002) book, Teaching Business Ethics for Effective Learning, is a very helpful guide for teachers (see, especially, chapters 1 and 8). Also McDonald and Donleavy (1995) have an interesting article which, ultimately, suggests that teaching ethics can result in “achieving ethical awareness and sensitivity in students,” IF the teacher is careful and aware of some obstacles. If you wish to continue expanding your knowledge and skills in teaching these topics, there are professional associations and training seminars that you can take. The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics provides both an annual conference and quarterly publications (please see While I am encouraged at the growing number of articles linking business communication, ethics, and corporate social responsibility, there is still much for communication teachers and researchers to learn and to develop. I agree with ABC colleague Lamar Reinsch (1997, p. 222) who encourages us to borrow from other disciplines as we advance our research and course curriculum. As researchers, we need more specific evidence that time spent on these topics does transfer, eventually, to a student’s professional behavior and organizational leadership. What I know thus far has encouraged me to continue integrating topics of professional ethics and corporate citizenship into my business writing courses. I have asked students to comment about these topics on their anonymous course evaluations. So far, I have never received a complaint, but I have sometimes received thanks and compliments for introducing these. More positively, I have seen how inspired many of students became when learning about “good companies.” The students incorporated many aspects of good corporate citizenship in their business plans and consultant reports-- and in their career plans. This raising of student expectations seems good to me. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 7
  • For now, I my intentions are to continue educating myself on these topics and to design an assessment tool to more accurately evaluate the value of this approach. Until I get more measurable data, I share Challenger engineer Roger Boisjoly’s hope that study of ethical challenges and organizational decisions can create some good so that students become “aware of what to expect when you commence your careers” (quoted in Elliot,1990). References Argenti, P. & Forman, J. (2002). The power of corporate communication. New York: McGraw Hill. Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. Badaracco, J. L. (1997) Defining moments: When managers must choose between right and right. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Blanchard, Ken. (1998, February). The new bottom line. [electronic version] Entrepreneur. Retrieved October 10, 2003 from http://,4621,228052,00.html Boyle, M. (2002, February 19). What is the ‘right stuff’ to be admired? [ electronic version] Fortune Magazine. .Retrieved on March 4, 2002 from,15114,369868,00.html Brown, L. G. (1994) Teaching Ethics in Business Communication Courses. Retrieved on September 4, 2002 from The Association for Business Communication Web site The ABC Website: Business Ethics Business Ethics Quarterly Clark, R. and Lattal, A. (1993). Workplace ethics: Winning the integrity revolution. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Cuilla, J. B. (1985). Do MBA students have ethics phobia? Business and Society Review. 53 (Spring), 52-55. Davis, M. (1988). The special role of professionals in business ethics. Business & Professional Ethics Journal. 7(2). 51-62. Elliot, N., Katz, E., and Lynch, R.. (1990) The challenger tragedy: A case study in organizational communication and professional ethics. Business and Professional Ethics Journal 12, 91-108. Ferrell, O.C. Fraedrich, J. and Ferrell, L. (2002). Business ethics: Ethical decision making and cases. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 8
  • Goldberg, B. (1997). Creating an ethical culture. Executive Excellence 14 (6), 11-12. Golen, S. Powers, C. Titkemeyer,M. (1985). How to teach ethics in a basic business communications class. Journal of Business Communication, 22(1), 75-83. Green, S. & Weber, J. ( 1997) influencing ethical development: exposing students to the AICPA code of conduct. Journal of Business Ethics 16 (8), 777-790. Groupthink (1991) [Videotape and Leader’s Guide] (Available from CRM Films) Gunz, S. (1998) Are academics committed to accounting ethics education? Journal of Business Ethics 17, 11-45. Krohn, F. (1985). A general semantic approach to teaching business ethics. Journal of Business Communication, 22(3), 59-67. Lawless, Amy (2000). The Rhetoric of the Challenger Disaster: A Case Study for Technical and Professional Communication. Retrieved on October 10, 2003 from the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing Web site: Lewis, P.V. (Ed). (1990). [Special issue: Business Communication Ethics] Journal of Business Communication 27 (3). Mahin, L. (1998). Critical thinking and business ethics. Business Communication Quarterly. 61 (3), 74. McDonald, G. and Donleavy, G. (1995, October). Objections to the teaching of business ethics. [electronic access] Journal of Business Ethics. Retrieved July 16, 2003 from McPhail, K.(2001).The other objective of ethics education: Rehumanising the accounting profession—a study of ethics education in law, engineering, medicine and accountancy. Journal of Business Ethics 34 (3/4), 279- 299. Nelson, C. and Cavey, R. eds. (1991). Ethics leadership and the bottom line. Croton-on- Hudson: North River Press. New Belgium Brewing Company, Inc. Ethics and Social Responsibility. (2002) [video] Available through the Colorado State University Online Business Ethics Certificate Program. Oddo, A. (1997). A framework for teaching business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics.16 (3), 293-297. Online Ethics Center for Science and Engineering (2003) The Story of the Challenger Disaster, including Supporting Material. Retrieved January 28, 2003 from Polonsky, M.J.. (1998). Incorporating ethics into business students’ research projects: A process approach. Journal of Business Ethics. 17 (11), 12-27. Porter, M & VanderLinde, C. (1995). Green and Competitive: Ending the Stalemate. Harvard Business Review. 73 (5), 120-134. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 9
  • Program in Business, Ethics & Society. “Ethics Curriculum Modules.” Retrieved on June 9, 2002 from Ralston, S. (ed) (1997) [Special issue: Business Communication Ethics] Journal of Business Communication 34 (2). Reinsch, N.L. (1997). On the road to maturity. Journal of Business Communication34 (2), 220-226. Scott, M. and Rothman, H. (1992). Companies with a conscience: intimate portraits of twelve firms that make a difference. New York. Carol Publishing Group Sims, R. (2002). Teaching business ethics for effective learning. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. Stodder, G.. (1998, July). Goodwill Hunting [electronic version] Entrepreneur. Retrieved on October 10, 2003 from,4621,228994,00.html Sweet, W. (1998, June). Educating Ethical Engineers. IEEE Spectrum 36 (6), 51-62. Tufte, E. (1997). Visual and statistical thinking. Visual Explanations. Graphics Press: Cheshire, Connecticut, pp. 38- 53. Winsor, D. A. (1988). Communication failures contributing to the challenger accident: an example for technical communicators. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 21 (3), 101-107. LEEANNE GIANNONE KRYDER is a Senior Lecturer for the University of California at Santa Barbara. She teaches business, technical, and management communication at UCSB and in industry. Prior to this, she spent eleven years in the computer industry as a technical writer, systems analyst, and manager. Research interests include transfer of training; instructional design; online learning; and professional ethics. Proceedings of the 2003 Association for business Communication Annual Convention. Copyright © 2003, Association for Business Communication 10