Students’ ethical thinking focus of college competition

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.]

RALEIGH, N.C. — At Martin Marietta, an employee was terminated years ago after being found to have accepted gifts from a vendor, while another employee lost his job after admitting he had filled his personal vehicle with gas at a company pump.

“Violating our code of ethical conduct is a sure, automatic termination,” says Anne Lloyd, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Raleigh-based company.

While actual cases of fraud are rare at Martin Marietta, which employs 7,000 people, the company in the past has terminated senior-level and long-tenured employees for violations of ethical and business conduct, Lloyd says, and employers everywhere should be vigilant in helping their employees avoid improper behavior.

Critical thinking for the real world – specifically, ethics in education — will be the focus of the fourth annual NCICU Ethics Bowl, which will be held February 6 and 7 at the Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh.

More than 100 college students from 20 of the state’s independent colleges and universities will participate in this year’s competition, which is a program of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the statewide office for the state’s 36 independent nonprofit colleges and universities.

“Students need to understand that corporate America values ethical behavior and appreciates the dilemmas that are often in the day-to-day actions that we take,” says Lloyd, who has served for four years as a member of the planning committee for the Ethics Bowl. Martin Marietta is one of over 20 corporate sponsors of the event.

Hope Williams, president of NCICU, says the organization created the Ethics Bowl to underscore the indispensable role that ethical thinking and actions play in daily life, and to give students an opportunity to develop the skills to recognize and analyze ethical issues quickly and work in teams to resolve them.

“Ethical thinking prepares students to be workers of high integrity, engaged citizens and responsible adults,” Williams says.

Business, government and foundation leaders serve as judges and moderators at the Ethics Bowl, which pits student teams against one another through four rounds of debate on ethical questions, including those the students have researched in advance, as well as a surprise question. Following the fourth round for all teams on Saturday, the most successful teams compete in two semi-final rounds, held concurrently, followed by a final round.

“It’s really teaching college students how to identify ethical issues, how to analyze them,” says Holly Wenger, director of ethics and compliance at Duke Energy and a judge in the final round of last year’s Ethics Bowl. “Those are the kind of people that Duke Energy wants.”

As it is at many companies, ethical behavior is a core value at Martin Marietta and at Duke Energy, which also is a sponsor of the Ethics Bowl. Spelled out in corporate statements, those two companies’ commitment to ethical behavior is the focus of orientation for new employees and ongoing training for all employees.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy also provides a hotline, administered by a third party, that its 28,000 employees can use to report ethical concerns — anonymously if the employees choose — about issues ranging from fairness and discrimination to whether to accept gifts from vendors, Wenger says. The company then investigates the concerns.

Duke Energy also encourages questions from employees and works with them to provide guidance on ethical issues.

Lloyd at Martin Marietta says a college class in business ethics she took as an elective for her major in accounting and finance was “probably closest to the way the real world works than any other classes I took.”

Corporations recognize that ethical issues represent a “gray area” in the business world and pose the challenge of “taking divergent views and coming to the right course of action for your company, your shareholders and all other stakeholders,” she says.

“It’s better to talk about it and express those differences and come to some agreement as to the course of action rather than keep it to yourself,” she says. “We all face those decisions every day. You have an ethical choice with almost every decision you have to make.”

In addition to the team competition, students participating in the Ethics Bowl will have the opportunity — during the competition and at a reception and dinner at the North Carolina Museum of History —¬† to meet corporate, foundation and government leaders from across the state who serve as judges and moderators for the competition.

“In today’s competitive global economy, organizations place a significant value on employees who can see and resolve the ethical questions they face in the workplace every day,” says Williams. “The Ethics Bowl reflects the broad effort by North Carolina’s independent colleges and universities to prepare students to think and act critically and responsibly.”

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Association works to boost private colleges, universities

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — At some of the private colleges and universities in North Carolina, up to 80 percent of students represent the first generation in their family to go to college.

And because only 27 percent of adult North Carolinians hold baccalaureate degrees, many of those first-generation college students often lack the family support systems that can be critical to help stay in college once they get there.

What’s more, with the cost of college rising, simply paying for it can be tough.

Working to address all those issues and others affecting private higher education in the state is North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

Formed in 1969, the Raleigh-based association serves as the statewide office for the state’s 36 private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

Enrollment totals 88,000 students at those schools, with North Carolinians accounting for 55 percent of their undergraduates, and they employ about 65,000 people, making private higher education overall one of the largest private-sector employers in the state, says Hope Williams, the organization’s president.

Operating with an annual budget of $1 million and a staff of 9 people, the association provides professional development for faculty and staff at its schools; group purchasing programs to encourage cost savings; projects to increase student retention; collaboration with the UNC system, state community college system, and state Department of Public Instruction; public policy work; and support for fundraising and academic programs.

The Independent College Fund of North Carolina, a fund formed in 1953 that became part of the statewide group in 1995, for example, raises financial support for scholarships and programs at its schools.

Directed by James E. Brown Jr., who joined the association in July after retiring as managing director for the public and institutional banking group at RBC, the fund raised a record-high $2.3 million in the fiscal year ended May 31.

Of that total, $988,000 was for named scholarships, including over $50,000 each from the Golden Leaf Foundation, UPS, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and BB&T.

And with $852,000 this year from a $4 million federal grant to the state, the association is providing mini-grants and other support to increase retention of students.

Funded in part through support from the Cannon Foundation in Concord, collaboration also is a big focus of the organization, which is a founding member of the Coalition for College Cost Savings, a group that includes higher-education associations in 30 states.

A student identification card system recently made available through the statewide association, for example, meant a 25 percent discount on a $400,000 system for its first user, Chowan University in Murfreesboro.

And consulting services to recover state sales tax refunds that nonprofits can claim under state law helped recover over $1 million for four institutions, says Chuck Taylor, who joined the group a year ago as director of its collaboration initiative after retiring as vice president for business and chief financial officer at Wingate University in Wingate.

And thanks to advances in technology, he says, future collaborations even could include sharing professors.

“We’re just now scratching the surface of what can be done to save institutions cost and to add value for the students,” he says.

Williams says a possible effort by state lawmakers to rewrite the tax code could eliminate those refunds, a move that could mean the loss of over $200 million for all nonprofits in the state, including $60 million for private colleges and universities.

That could result in higher costs for students at those schools, where annual tuition and fees average just over $24,000, compared to a national average of $28,500 for private colleges and universities.

“The biggest challenge,” Williams says, “is affordability for students.”