Business scandals, and the debate over business ethics, are as old as the profession of management itself. And each new revelation of corporate misdoing brings with it the inevitable call for investigations, commissions, codes, and oaths.
Oaths, unfortunately, don’t prevent unethical behavior. Many of the transgressions that have been in the news undoubtedly have occurred at organizations that have a code of ethics. But ethics is more than just statements and rules. Ethics is about personal values, beliefs, and behavior that permeate all areas of life.
To treat ethics as something to be addressed only through oaths, treats the symptoms, not the root cause of improper behavior. As one of our leading professors, world-renowned ethics scholar Ed Freeman often says, values are matters of the feet and matters of the heart — not matters of the mouth.
At Darden, we work with our students to help them appreciate the leadership challenge posed by trying to create responsible success in today’s business environment. We’ve pursued this mission with the firm conviction that ethics is an inseparable part of management, management disciplines, and management practice. In our view, leadership and ethics are intertwined—they are about how we treat each other, envision a better future, and work together to create it.
That’s why Darden long has required a graded course in ethics. This historical commitment to ethics was strengthened in 1966, when the Elis and Signe Olsson family founded an academic center at the school to focus on “efforts to improve standards of behavior in both public and private business.” We also encourage the integration of ethical issues in all academic areas at Darden, and we encourage cross-disciplinary exchanges that heighten our conviction that ethics goes all the way through management disciplines and practice.
Beyond adhering to the University of Virginia’s Honor Code, Darden students take an active role in exploring their own values, and the challenges of integrating business and ethics. For example, students organize and run the annual Values Based Leadership Conference, which aims to inspire, challenge and engage people to incorporate values in daily decision-making.
Ultimately, we must arm our students, the future leaders of the global economy, not only with words, but with the skills and ability to make informed, ethical decisions.