40 YEARS AFTER WATERGATE: TEACHING BUSINESS AND LEADERSHIP ETHICS: BEST PRACTICES
40 years is more than most of today's students have lived. The origins of college courses in the American Watergate episode have been forgotten by many or have never even been known. Yet, the issues surrounding the historic chapter in US history have given rise to important topics in how to conduct business, and it is important for today's students to know and understand these topics today.
In this paper, I plan to discuss some of the successful methods used to teach college undergraduates about business ethics in firms and about ethical lapses and failures. Drawing on my own teaching experiences of more than 30 years, as well as documented examples provided by others, I want to offer readers some “how-to” instructions with specific applications in the disciplines of marketing and management. The word “ethics” conjures up images of “other worldliness” and “philosophy” for undergraduates studying business and professional fields. Each semester as I reach the topic of ethics in my class syllabi, I can see the eyes of my students glaze over, as they think, no doubt, that what is to come next will be boring and not at all useful to them.
Yet business ethics and the lack of ethical practices touch many lives. To make the students appreciate the importance of sound business ethics, I have found film and video to be great tools. Beginning with the origin of the importance of business ethics in America and the relationship of business ethics to the Watergate Presidential crisis in the 1970’s, and moving through some of the great crises in succeeding years, such as the Tylenol crisis, the Exxon Valdez, Bridgestone-Firestone Ford Explorer, Peanut Butter, to global examples involving baby formula, lead paint on child products and more, students quickly realize that the topic of business ethics is alive and is critical in their lives. They also see that the role of honest leadership can greatly influence the ethical practices of business firms, their employees and all of our lives.
Films such as the classic Silkwood, Dark Chocolate, A Civil Action, The Insiders, The Corporation, Fed Up and other food films, Harlan County USA about the American mining industry, and more highlight situations in business history when ethics were put aside by companies in the name of profit. According to one distinguished scholar and author in the field of business ethics, Dr. O.C. Ferrell, using a stakeholder approach to teach business ethics is a valuable way to introduce aspects of business ethics to those, such as today's students, who may not be directly involved in the business firm’s practices. In his article, "What Your Mother Never Taught You: How to Teach Business Ethics,"* Ferrell maintains the importance of business ethics as a distinct discipline, and states that consumers may be concerned about product safety, an issue of immediate concern to them, but will then also see child labor as important.
I plan to discuss my methods and the tools I use in detail and compare my approach to teaching business ethics to approaches in use today. A definition and a focus on the importance of ethical leadership in organizations is the ending point for this examination.
 What Your Mother Never Taught You: How to Teach Business Ethics by O.C. Ferrell, Ph.D. and Linda Ferrell, Ph.D. (2005) Fulfilling Our Obligations: Perspectives on Teaching Business Ethics, Kennesaw State University Press.