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Business, education collaborate on Institute for Business Ethics

Jackson — As partnerships between business and educational institutions continue to increase, one such alliance in the metro area is addressing workplace ethics, a topic pushed to the forefront in recent years.

Belhaven College and MMI Hotel Group/Dining Systems have joined forces to create an Institute for Business Ethics, a one-of-a-kind, local think tank designed to challenge leadership with ethical research, discussion, and resources.

Dr. Dan Fredericks, Belhaven senior vice president and provost, said plans had already begun for the institute before nationally-publicized corporate business scandals at Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom.

“At Belhaven, it is our responsibility to educate the public, and ethics is a part of that. We’ve had the desire to establish this institute, but couldn’t handle the expense until MMI agreed to partner with us,” Fredericks said.
MMI Dining Systems president and CEO Ron Cockayne said they were drawn to the collaboration with the Christian, liberal arts college.

“We realized from talking with Belhaven that we have a similarity in core values — there was a chemistry between us,” Cockayne explained.

He mentioned three primary MMI core values as mirroring what Belhaven has in mind with the concept of an ethics institute.

“First of all, we believe in honest, principle-based leadership, we are involved with the community, and we promote opportunities for training,” Cockayne said.
Training is a key element of the project, which begins January 19 with a conference titled “Business Ethics and the Role of Senior Management.”

Featured speakers will be retired Baylor University Ethics Department chair Dr. Richard Chewning, currently a distinguished scholar in residence at John Brown University in Arkansas, and Dr. Bill Penn, Belhaven business professor.

Chewning, who has written six books and more than 90 articles on business ethics, said that “30 or 40 years ago business values and principles were assumed.”

“Then when the Christian common grace began to be washed away, decay occurred in the general moral base of our culture. And, this was long before WorldCom,” he said.
“Of course, the press picks up on the large corporation corruption, but small business can have exactly the same problems,” said Chewning, who spent more than 42 years in the college classroom.

Chewning points to basic temptation as the root of ethical dilemmas.
He said, “A frog in a pan of gradually heating water doesn’t know that he’s dying as the water begins to boil. And, ethical problems begin slowly, gradually start downhill, and then snowball.”

Fredericks said that the theoretical and practical applications of business ethics go hand in hand.

“The theoretical is important, but I feel the practical applications are more of a major concern for business practitioners,” he said.

Cockayne said, “The way this is set up, company leaders can bring in management staff from a number of different areas including healthcare, human resources, accounting, advertising and even athletics.”

Apart from the January conference, Belhaven is planning a series of executive summits, where 10 to 12 business decision-makers will meet to conceptualize agendas and tracks for seminars, written resources on best practices, and more.

A steering committee and, ultimately, an advisory board will determine the institute’s direction.

“Everyone,” Chewning said, “has been made more conscience of ethics and has placed more of a stimulated emphasis on the topic,” and college students are another segment of society which is examining personal and business standards more thoroughly.

Fredericks said that “students have been sensitized to this because of stalwart and high-level people going to jail for a lack of ethics.”

Mississippi College management professor Dr. Randall Robbins agreed. “All of my classes are required to do research projects and presentations, and a number of groups have chosen to present on business ethics and the corporations involved. Their work has been excellent, and I can tell they have found the research both shocking and enlightening.”
Robbins said he frequently enlists outside speakers to give students a feel for how class concepts operate in the real world.

“As a Christian School of Business, I feel we would be neglecting our mission if we did not emphasize what our institution is built upon,” he said.

Those wanting more information on the Belhaven College Institute for Business Ethics or on the January conference, should call (601) 974-6456.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet Vickers at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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