Doing Business with the Community:
Business Ethics/Case Studies
Interview with Professor Mary-Ellen Boyle
Why is it important for your students to study business ethics?
Business ethics is about a 20-year-old topic. In terms of society and class material, it has exploded in the last 20 years, especially with all the recent attention over corporate scandals in America this year. Studying business ethics also fulfills the values perspective at Clark, which teaches students to examine ethical values and the way in which they're manifested in business organizations. But we also get the students to think about their own values as they make career decisions. The course is also integrative. We talk about ethics in marketing, ethics in accounting, ethics in finance, and I want my students to think about these things as being all part of management and the business world. Finally, I want them to understand the whole idea of corporate social responsibility. I talk to them about university responsibility, and I reacquaint them with Clark's work with its neighbors through the University Park Partnership. I talk to them about why I think they should be involved in the community by putting it in the context of other things Clark does for the neighborhood. There are direct parallels with corporations. Maybe they have a philanthropic aspect, maybe they have some sort of social deal where they allow people to take time off to go build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Companies do all different kinds of things these days, and take different roles in the community. And I think universities like Clark are doing the same thing.
How do you get them to see all those integrated areas?
They work on a team project where they are asked to look at a business as a whole and then pick a slice of it to assist the organization with. Project teams are responsible for finding a local client, talking to them to figure out what help they need and then providing it. I feel that any experience I can give them in the real world will help them in lots of ways. Finding a company to work with as a consulting client is not that different from finding a job. You network, you use the yellow pages, you read news articles—so I think there's lots to be gained from that experience. And throughout this learning process, I'm trying to get them to have more practice and more confidence knowing what they know and don't know. I think that's a lot of what being an educated person is, knowing when to ask questions, when to get help, and then knowing how to moderate it.
Do your students like working in project teams?
There are always challenges working in a group since there are team dynamics. But how to work on a team is another thing we teach in management because because that's what the real world is about. I suggested that each team pick a project manager and they didn't want to, but eventually they did. So a little bit of this experience is about coming up to the plate and taking responsibility for a real project. And so many people wrote this in their final journal assignment. I asked what they learned from this, and many said that it was the fact that it was a real business, not a paper for a course, not a presentation for a professor, not even something that would be peer-reviewed, but that working with a real client in the real world was so different and so significant that they felt they had to do a better job. I wanted them to feel that sense of responsibility.
What kinds of projects did student teams do?
One group worked with a dance academy developing a market for their summer program and researching distribution—ways to get word out about the program. Another group did survey research for a small restaurant on Park Avenue right near the Clark campus. They designed a questionnaire and surveyed students and community residents about their awareness and perceptions of the restaurant and fast-food behavior. One helped a local salon with marketing materials. Read more about this project. There was also a group that helped a local tanning salon expand their services beyond the college market to more corporate clients.
How do you evaluate your students?
They get graded on their team project and some writing assignments, but I also have them keep reflection journals. I ask them to write about their whole experience—working on the team, finding a client, working with a client, etc. At the beginning they read several things about service learning, and I ask them to reflect on that. Then I ask them to write a journal entry each week. At significant points in the project I also ask them to do longer and more specific journal entries. Service learning is really a subset of active learning. You have to reflect to know what you're learning, so I also ask them to incorporate what they've learned about business ethics and management into their reflections.