The Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR) develops innovative courses and programs, including the SRE Certificate, which immerse students in business ethics issues. In addition, CESR has developed the Leeds’ Pedagogy for the Teaching of Business Ethics.
Outside of the classroom, CESR holds events and competitions, namely the annual CESR Business Ethics Case Competition. The competition challenges students to apply their values and skills learned in Leeds classes to difficult real-world cases. This year will mark the fourth annual Competition with the largest prize pool yet.
At the Leeds School of Business, CESR has reprised a time-tested pedagogy to prepare students for the potential impact on their behavior of authority, administrative structures, and situational social influence.
The predominant manner in which b-schools currently teach their students business ethics is thoroughly ineffective in this regard. The prevailing approach is one of ‘describe and prescribe’ (D&P). Ethics is taught like science or math and students are treated like empty vessels. In a purely theoretical exercise, the instructor breaks the subject matter down into the component parts of diverse ethical theories. Students are expected to digest the theories and then regurgitate them piecemeal in applying them to case studies in a purely external manner. As in science or math, most students quickly forget the formulas once they have completed an exam or written a term paper. The D&P method does not assist students in exercising moral reflection toward a meaningful life. In fact, the method relativizes ethics and thereby marginalize ethics in the lives of students.
Leeds employs a second approach to teaching ethics, an altogether different methodology. We can contrast the two approaches as ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom up’. The D&P method is a purely theoretical exercise with instructors lecturing students on ethical theory. Rather than ‘top-down’, the Leeds’ pedagogy uses a ‘bottom up’ approach wherein instructors first challenge students to think about the goal or meaning of their lives as business leaders.
Case studies are not used merely to get students to describe a different set of outcomes by plugging in different variables to get different results; rather, case studies are used as a means of experiential learning. Students become actively involved in an experience that challenges them to reflect on their most fundamental commitments. In thinking about the kind of person or business leader they want to be, they develop the analytical skills necessary to reflect on the ethical values that undergird their conception. Rather than formulaic, the goals of Leeds’ pedagogy is very practical. It assists students in developing and exercising moral reflection for a purposeful life. In short, the Leeds’ pedagogy places ethics at the very center of students’ lives.