AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Auburn University’s College of Business has established a new ethics center to help organizations avoid unethical practices and to teach students about appropriate business conduct.
The Auburn University Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures, which has already begun operations, conducts surveys for clients who wish to determine if their organizations are operating in a proper manner.
“If we find an unethical culture, we will help the management develop a plan to correct it,” said Achilles Armenakis, Auburn University’s James T. Pursell Sr. Eminent Scholar in Ethics. “The small things we find now may keep the organization from doing much worse later, like ‘cooking’ the books.”
Auburn University benefactor James T. Pursell Sr., founder of Pursell Technologies Inc. in Sylacauga, is presenting an annual award to fund the center. In 1998, he began supporting Auburn’s eminent scholar chair and program to help emphasize the significance of ethics to students.
“The College of Business eminent scholar program exposes Auburn University students to the importance of ethics in managing organizations,” said Pursell. “This new ethics center will complement the instructional program by conducting applied research within organizations and providing managers with the tools to assess an organization’s culture and to develop and maintain ethical management practices.”
Pursell is a 1952 graduate who came up with the idea of selling specialty controlled release fertilizers under the Sta-Green brand name. In March, the Auburn Alumni Association presented him with a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Armenakis says Pursell’s support will help organizations using Auburn University’s ethics center to avoid pitfalls that are increasing in today’s business culture. He cites ethical problems found during annual surveys of 2,000 businesses by the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C., which asks if participants have observed misconduct. He says more than 50 percent said yes. When asked if they reported it, more than 40 percent of the respondents said no. Misconduct encountered in the workplace might include conflict of interest, lying and abusive behavior.
“They either said they feared retaliation or felt it would not do any good to report it,” he said. “We want to help companies have ethical cultures and to foster an environment that does not punish those who report unethical behavior.”
Armenakis, along with other Auburn faculty and graduate students, are conducting a case study with Pursell Technologies Inc. to develop research methodology for studying other organizations. This is done by interviewing employees and allied businesses, such as partners and customers. They will apply the findings to develop questionnaires that can be used for clients, such as private, public and governmental groups, that wish to learn in-depth about their management practices.
“As we do studies for clients, we will present the research findings to students to help them see proper management practices and to avoid things that might be considered minor infractions, but that are unethical and cause harm,” he said.
More than 30 faculty members in the College of Business devote a total of 150 classroom hours to teaching ethics. Graduating students also are asked to complete a questionnaire about their confidence in their grasp of ethics, as are various alumni and employers.
“The cultures of organizations they join have been established already and the new graduates often face pressure to conform,” Armenakis said. “We want our students to recognize unethical situations and to make the right decisions.”
He says that outside speakers also are used to illustrate the importance of proper workplace behavior. Previous speakers have included Jeffrey Wigand who exposed tobacco companies’ use of nicotine to make users addicted; Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol who warned about the O-ring problems before the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986; and Roy Vagelos, retired CEO of Merck pharmaceutical company, who wrote the book, “The Moral Corporation.”
Armenakis says the Auburn University College of Business plans to host conferences on ethics and will invite more guest speakers. Information about the Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures is available by calling (334) 844-6506.
(Written by Charles Martin.)