Stern School Undergraduate Division C40.0012.005: Professional Responsibility and Leadership

Stern School Undergraduate Division
C40.0012.005: Professional Responsibility and Leadership
Wednesday 4:55-6:10
Edwin Hartman
[Note: This syllabus is subject to change.]
Description of the Course
We shall consider
- the role of business in society, locally and globally;
- some economic and ethical aspects of acting as a business professional;
- several models of leadership and their application to business;
- the relationships among these topics and what they have to do with a meaningful life.
In most weekly sessions we’ll analyze a case on some business practice that raises questions on some topic of importance. I’ll provide the case(s) ahead of time, or in class for immediate reading and discussion. These readings will form the texts of the course. Some of them will
be on the Blackboard site.
Every week you will also read all or part of a classic work, usually from outside business,
that explores that same important topic from the standpoint of philosophy, psychology, religion,
law, or the arts. These readings we call the subtexts of the course. Most of them will be on the
Blackboard site.
This is an interdisciplinary capstone course. The purpose is to build on all your prior core
coursework, both at the Stern School and elsewhere. We want you to come away with a sense of
what a business professional is, what it means to be one. You should understand how good professionals and leaders conduct themselves in complex, uncertain situations. You should begin to
see how your interests relate to those of your organization and your community, and to contemplate what is most important to you.
Work and Grading
The primary basis for your grade will be a journal. Every week after class (except for the
first week) you are to write one page (double spaced, 12-point type) in your journal. You are to
react to what you have read and what you have heard in class. You may agree, disagree, elabo-
rate, discuss a related topic, bring in some facts and insights from your own experience, etc. Do
not summarize any of the readings or class discussions. I’ll grade your entries and give you some
By Monday of the second week of class (January 28), you will post your first
journal entry on the class Blackboard site; it will be a short autobiography. Thereafter
you will submit two every two weeks. These will be due on
Monday of the fourth week (February 11),
Monday of the sixth week (February 25),
Monday of the eighth week (March 10),
Monday of the tenth week (March 31; spring vacation will intervene),
Monday of the twelfth week (April 14), and
Monday of the fourteenth week (April 28).
There will be a final entry due on Monday of the fifteenth week (May 5), after the last
class. In this entry you may write on anything pertinent to the course that interests you.
I advise you to write an entry every week after class, on the readings and class for
that week, rather than write two every other week.
There will be no final exam, or any other kind of exam. You may somewhat improve or undermine your grade by your contributions or lack of them to class discussions.
You can see me in my office on many Tuesday afternoons, all Wednesday afternoons until class, and Thursday afternoons until three. It’s best to make an appointment
if you can. My office phone is 212/998-0472. My e-mail is [email protected]
My home phone number, for urgent matters, is 732/873-2902.
Assignments: Topics, Texts, and Subtexts
Module 1. Commerce and Wealth in the World
January 23: Human and Economic Considerations
We discuss what ethics is about. Using the case “Monday 9:01AM” we think about how
business considerations create fiduciary obligations – that is, a manager’s moral duties of
a certain sort – in handling a morally difficult situation at the office.
We probably won’t have much time to discuss Adam Smith until the second class session, but it would be
“Monday 9:01AM”
Wealth of Nations (excerpt) – Adam Smith
“Unto this Last” – John Ruskin
January 30: Do Markets Always Work?
Using the text “The Price of Lobster Thermidor” we explore the moral problems created
by market imperfections or failures. This case is used to illustrate the problems of monopoly and monopsony, externalities, public goods, and information asymmetry. As
background we consider the ideas of Smith and Ruskin as well as those of Gandhi.
“The Price of Lobster Thermidor”
Market Failure
Economics & Ethics Selections – Mohandas Gandhi
February 6: Where Does Ethics Come From?
We may think of ethics as coming down from on high, from culture or religion, even
from revelation. But the roots of ethical thinking can be found in many places. We look
for the sources of ethics in philosophy, religion, the brain, and elsewhere. Keep in mind
the difference between origin and justification.
The Commons Problem
The Gospel of Luke (excerpts)
Phineas Gage Websites
Brain Morality
Monkey Fairness
February 13: Do Human Rights Exist?
We explore the issue of human rights, especially for laborers around the world. We also
consider the origins and justification of our human rights claims.
“Slaves of Chocolate”
“Lives Held Cheap in Bangladesh Sweatshop”
John Wesley, Sermon on Money (excerpts)
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory article (website)
Dalai Lama Nobel Prize Speech 1999
U.N Report on Human Development
February 20: Wealth and Property, Life and Death
This session sums up the first module. Our discussion explores the possibility of meaning
and fulfillment in the economic world. Some people claim the need to transcend material
wealth in order to find meaning in life. How does the good life relate to the ethical life?
Nicomachean Ethics (excerpts) - Aristotle
Book of Ecclesiastes (excerpts) – Bible
“Gooseberries” - Chekhov
Module 2. Profession and Personal Identity
February 27: Loyalty and Side Deals
What is the appropriate relationship to vendors? When, if ever, is it ethically acceptable
to take cash from them? And if you can’t take cash, what can you take? Anything? What
circumstances might change the answers to these questions?
“Buynow Stores”
Analects (excerpts) – Confucius
March 5: Loyalty and Whistle Blowing
Local hierarchies create local loyalties. These are necessary to some degree, but they can
work against the interests of the individuals or the entire firm or highlight the opposition
of one set of interests to another. . When should one be a good soldier? How should
those at the top act to reduce information asymmetry within the firm?
“Travel & Entertainment”
“Ace Greenberg”
Memoirs (excerpts) - Ulysses S. Grant
Callicles (from Plato’s Gorgias)
March 12: Loyalty, Industrial Espionage and Trade Secrets
Companies often claim to own certain information about themselves or their business.
How can an employee who has this information decide what belongs to the firm and what
to him or her? What may you justifiably learn about your competitor and how may you
learn it?
“Stockbroker’s Story”
“Pizza Plot”
Nicomachaean Ethics (excerpts) – Aristotle
March 26: Standards of Truth and Disclosure
Should our standards of truth and disclosure change in a professional context? Is honesty
dependent upon context?
“Today’s Analyst Wears Two Hats”
“It Takes a Village”
“Fiduciary Duties”
De Officiis (excerpts) - Cicero
Module 3. Power, Leadership, and Humanity
April 2: Leadership and the Law: Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Corporations and professionals face new risks in the implementation of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Here we explain the basic working of these guidelines, and examine
their implications for leadership in corporate life.
“Pollution Case Highlights Trend to Let Employees Take the Rap”
“When the Company Becomes a Cop”
“The Path of the Law” (excerpts) - Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Prince, Chapter 7 (excerpt) – Machiavelli
April 9: Leadership and Character
We want you to encounter some real voices from the business world. We expect to have
a guest speaker for this session.
Nicomachean Ethics (excerpts) – Aristotle
April 16. Leadership and Ethics: Words and Deeds
Benjamin Disraeli once said “With words we govern men.” If so, then we must choose
our words carefully, and the goals of our governance more carefully still.
Gettysburg Address – Lincoln (on PowerPoint)
The Prince, Chapter 15 and other excerpts - Machiavelli
Rhetoric (excerpts) - Aristotle
April 23. Business Leadership and Its Limits
In this session we examine the relationship between leadership and the fiduciary duty that
binds business leaders to the interest of the shareholders.
“When Good Ethics Is Not Good Business”
The Tao te Ching
“Our Schizophrenic Conception of the Business Corporation” (excerpts)
- William Allen
April 30. Review
We have a final, integrative discussion on the course and its lessons, limitations, and implications for professional life beyond Stern.
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” – Walt Whitman