Arizona State professor, author raises ethical issues

Michael C. Lewis

If you get too much change at the grocery store, would you give it back? If you have the answers for your final exam in ethics, would you use them?

We are faced with difficult choices like these everyday. Last night, Marianne Jennings, author, columnist and professor at Arizona State University, spoke about why ethics matter and what each of us can do about it. She said the “state of the union on ethics” is not good.

More than 300 students, faculty and guests met in the Student Center Ballroom as Jennings took center stage.

She gave vivid examples of the ethical situations we put ourselves in daily. She referred to the various corporate scandals from Enron to WorldCom to Martha Stewart, whose company shares have dropped from $70 to $6.

“Why do smart people do dumb things?” Jennings asked.

“The first reason is they overestimated their abilities,” Jennings said. “They could no longer fix the problem themselves. For most individuals it’s always in the name of a good cause.

“The second reason is they didn’t learn what we are learning tonight — the probability is very high that the truth will come out,” Jennings said. “They underestimate the truth.”

According to Jennings, most things have a way of working themselves out. On the other hand, there are unethical actions taking place, but people choose not to report them.

Jennings said 65 percent of professionals polled did not report unethical behavior. They feared retribution or corrective action against themselves, and they also feared accusations of not being a team player.

“Should I do this?” asked Jennings. “As Jeff Goldblum asked in Jurassic Park, we should spend more time asking ‘should we’ not ‘could we.’”

Jennings ended her presentation with one “golden” message: “Treat others how you want to be treated.”

Chris Fox, senior economics and psychology major, said making the decision to not do something is easy. The much harder question is, “Why should one choose to be ethical?”

“If a business makes an ethical decision, they might lose money in the long run,” Fox said. “Competition seems to drive ethical businesses out.”

Junior accounting major Mandy Geabler admitted she had an opportunity to cheat in high school on her final exam, but she chose not to. The students who did cheat were caught.

According to Jennings, 62 percent of high school students cheated on an exam in the last year.

“I always look out for myself, but at the same time, you’ve got to do the right thing,” Geabler said. “I can see why a lot of people don’t come out and tell somebody. It depends on the situation.”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Michael Lewis at [email protected].