Colorado university embeds ethics into business curriculum

By treating ethics and sustainability into undergraduate and graduate business courses, the Leeds School of Business seeks to infuse these values in future business leaders.

These days, most graduate school business management programs address ethics and business sustainability issues, but few of them consider them as central to other topics. That's even more true when you consider undergraduate business curriculum. Not so for the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado.

For the past 10 years, the program has embedded aspects of corporate social responsibility deeply into all of its courses, rather than treating it as a separate topic. That starts with first-year business students, said Donna Sockell, director for the school's Center for Education on Social Responsibility. "Our desire to to create, train and produce the values-driven, socially conscious leaders of tomorrow," Sockell said.

To do that, the Leeds School of Business infuses every single business course with information and learning materials that consider business decisions not just from the bottom-line point of view but also from the point of view of employees, the environment and the local community, she said.

Before I go any further, I should disclose that I found out during the process of interviewing Sockell that the Leeds School of Business is endowed by one of the founding family members of a company that I worked for: CMP Media. The Leeds family was well-known for its commitment to issues of community involvement and work-family balance long before it became chic to be concerned about such things. Sadly, that culture was destroyed when CMP Media was acquired by a company with far less concern about corporate social responsibility. So, I should disclose that I know Michael Leeds, and was intrigued when I found out that he was behind this program.

The concept is really pretty simple: the school intends students to consider every decision in the context of social responsibility. They are confronted with ethics questions from the second they attend their first class and are asked to write papers describing their approaches to different situations, Sockell said. A number of issues have been added recently to spark controversy and feedback, including one on privacy rights in the age of Facebook and one that details the sorts of non-financial reporting activities that companies increasingly must support. "We go beyond the philosophical into practice considerations," she said.

This story isn't meant to be an endorsement of this particular business school, but it certainly differentiates the University of Colorado from other schools that talk about teaching corporate sustainability and social responsibility values but that continue to treat it as a separate issue. The focus on introducing this at the undergraduate level is also very unique.

I really hope that business management disciplines in general begin paying more than a passing homage to sustainability. This is not about being green, it is about being a better business for the community, not just shareholders. That can't help but be beneficial for the bottom line.

(Image courtesy of Leeds Business School at University of Colorado)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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