Business majors at NIU find themselves faced with one of the scariest of all questions: What would your mother think?
Students are asked to ponder that and similar questions as part of the college's ethics program known as BELIEF. Launched in the fall of 2006, the program is being heralded by many in higher education as one of the best ways to integrate ethics into a curriculum.
Rather than focusing on ethics in a single class, BELIEF is designed to show students that every decision they make has an ethical component; thus the topic of ethics is cropping up in discussions of everything from accounting practices to marketing claims, as well as enforcement of human resource policies.
While every ethical dilemma is unique, students can use the same tools to evaluate each situation by consulting a 34-page handbook or a decision card that they carry in their wallets. Both outline a seven-step decision-making process and suggest a dozen different "tests" that can be used to evaluate the ethics of various options. While some of the tests, like the "Mom Test", rely upon an instinctive gut check to assess the ethics of a decision, other tests focus on more technical matters such as legality or professional standards.
The program has been singled out for praise at numerous academic conferences, where it was hailed for its uniqueness and simplicity. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business has called it a model program.
The BELIEF Initiative has also been endorsed by both national and regional corporations. AT&T, Caterpillar, Microsoft, Experian, KPMG, The National Bank & Trust Company of Sycamore, NICOR, Northwestern Mutual, and Road Ranger USA have stepped forward as sponsors to not only provide financial support for the program, but to also provide a speakers bureau from which professors can draw guest lecturers who can discuss the real-world application of ethics in the workplace.
So, while many other business schools lament the lack of time in their core curriculum for a course on ethics, NIU has made ethics central to all it teaches. That's a decision Mom would be proud of.