April 7, 2004

Speakers detail ethical puzzles in professions      

By Eric Rangus

With nine panelists on stage, all experts in a diverse range of disciplines, "Emerging Challenges for Ethics and Leadership in the Professions" proved to be an informative, varied and thought-provoking exploration of where the practice of ethics falls in the wider scheme of activity, both on campus and off.

The panel took place in WHSCAB Auditorium, Tuesday, March 30. Each speaker gave a brief statement on ethics' crossroads with his or her discipline, and that was followed by a moderated discussion and questions from the audience.

Sponsored by the Center for Ethics and moderated by its director, Jim Fowler, the symposium served as the academic centerpiece of Emory's Inauguration Celebration. As such, President Jim Wagner, his wife Debbie and daughter Christine sat front row-center. The soon-to-be-inaugurated president also delivered concluding remarks.

The panelists included business executive Pierre Ferrari and eight prominent Emory faculty and administrators: James Curran (public health), Frances Smith Foster (English and women's studies), Michael Johns (health sciences), Thomas Long (theology), Michael Perry (law), Tammie Quest (emergency medicine), Diana Robertson (business) and Stuart Zola (Yerkes).

For the panelists, the answers to how ethical behavior is reconciled within their professions were not always easy. "Should health care be a societal right or a personal responsibility?" Johns said. "We haven't settled on a place for health care in our society. It's something we struggle with every day." Along the same dichotomous line, Johns said an academic health center such as Emory's plays a major role in research, yet the groundbreaking work it fosters can lead to higher health care costs.

Other panelists said ethics is an essential part of everyday activity. "Why do [emergency room doctors] do the right thing for patients with whom they have no connection?" Quest asked, then quickly provided an answer. "It's because of the ethical beliefs that come from training--beneficence, justice and respect. The power of ethics and morality is incredibly important because when we graduate a physician, we really do not have a measure of moral competence."

As the only non-Emory panelist, Ferrari, president of the Hot Fudge Social Venture Fund and a partner in Tula Communications, was able to offer still another perspective. "Ethics can influence business to return to its roots as a community tool to build prosperity for all," he said.

He specifically cited Emory as a place that could serve as a conduit for positive change. "There is an interdisciplinary fusion that can happen at Emory University that could become a source of a new and important kind of authority," Ferrari said.

Robertson, associate professor of organization and management in the Goizueta Business School, said that students in a post-Enron business climate have become so disillusioned with business that many are looking to other career paths. "Recent scandals have put the limelight on business schools," she said. "And companies are saying, 'Schools aren't giving us the leaders we need.' We have to take greater accountability for our products--the students."

Robertson pointed out the Emory's MBA program's core values: Courage, integrity, accountability, rigor, diversity, team and community, and added that those values came with a context. "Enron had a set of values, too, but what good did that do?" she said. "What matters is how they are applied."

Long had perhaps the best line of the evening when he described what a theology school, such as Candler, contributes to a university. "It keeps the nose of faith onto the grindstone of reality," he said.