Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

Better Business Bureau of Delaware: Annual Meeting
Hotel Du Pont, Wilmington
April 27, 2010

I thank Mark for that introduction, and I thank Christine Sauers for the invitation to come talk with you tonight.

I’ve been asked to speak about ethics in education, so that my remarks might tie in with your own theme—ethics in business. But, of course, education is my business, so I think you’ll hear a lot of overlap between the two.

I want to begin by addressing a popular assumption—the assumption that ethics are easy. They’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re facing an ethical dilemma—the fall-out is seen only in retrospect, or the implications of your actions are never fully known at all. Sometimes an ethical decision has consequences as bad as its unethical counterpart. Sometimes the organization in which you’re operating makes ethical action—if not ethical intent—as difficult as possible.

Ethical decision-making is a complex process, and it requires ethical leadership. I read an article on ethical management by two Penn State professors, Linda Treviño and Michael Brown. The authors made a distinction between being a moral leader and being a moral manager. They said moral leaders are those with integrity. They’re fair; they make decisions based on ethical values. But moral managers lead others in ethical behavior; they let them know what’s expected in terms of ethical action, and they hold them accountable for it.

So when I consider the University of Delaware’s responsibility to ethical conduct, I have to consider alongside that my own responsibility to moral management. And that inevitably leads me to think about what’s on the line if either weakens.

The University of Delaware employs 3,900 faculty and staff. It educates 21,000 students each year. A sizeable subset leaves our campus every spring and goes out into the world, making decisions that affect scores of other people—decisions that affect the environment, the economy, human health, culture, and community. And, eventually, many of them will manage or mentor others who’ll do the same.

The University spends $397 million annually in Delaware—$505 million in the four-state region encompassing Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Our total expenditures support 5,900 jobs in Delaware and 7,200 jobs in the four-state region. Altogether, our annual in-state economic impact is $601 million. In the region, it exceeds $870 million. This is a lot of responsibility—to an awful lot of people.

And adding to it is the fact that UD is a land-grant university. Let me tell you what that means: In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, granting federally controlled land to states for the purpose of creating colleges that would teach agriculture and engineering to working-class citizens, those historically frozen out of higher education.

Every land-grant institution got 30,000 acres for each member of its Congressional delegation. In return, the institutions had to do two basic things: 1) Make higher education practical—that is, useful to the average citizen. The classics wouldn’t cut it; and 2) Ensure that all citizens could access that education.

Of course, the definition of a “practical education” has changed dramatically over the last century-and-a-half. But that doesn’t unburden us of these two fundamental ethical responsibilities.

In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act took this obligation a bit further. The Act began federal funding of cooperative extension in the nation’s land-grant universities. Congress said that land-grants needed to actually go out into the community and help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives.

So you can see—for a very long time—our mission has extended well beyond our enrollment. As Delaware’s flagship university, and as a land-grant institution, we have a very real responsibility to serve the community in which we reside. And all these things—our educational imperative, our Congressional mandate, our economic impact, our broad constituency—they make ethical leadership and ethical action absolutely essential.

How We Teach Ethics
Let me talk a little bit about how UD teaches ethics. Of course, we offer ethics courses in the traditional department, philosophy. We have exceptional faculty in philosophy, and about half the department of nine teaches ethics and ethical theory.

I should also mention that UD is home to the American Philosophical Association, the world’s largest professional association of philosophers—with nearly 11,000 members. Having this organization on campus is an incredible asset. The APA contributes expertise and funding to virtually every ethics-focused conference we host. And its staff and board are invaluable resources.

But the vast majority of the ethics content that’s taught every day on campus is applied ethics. And applied ethics is taught in virtually every University department. Because there’s nothing we teach at UD that doesn’t have ethical implications.

Let me give you an example. We offer a major in Fashion & Apparel Studies, and I want to read to you the second sentence in the department’s online description—the sentence directly after the one explaining what the major is. It says: Our graduates are aware of and able to act with accountability toward issues of social responsibility and sustainability. The description goes on to say: We interact with local and global communities in ways that are innovative and collaborative. We value work that is relevant to business and society and built upon international and cultural diversity.

The thing is, economic globalism demands that we consider things like fair wage, workplace conditions, sustainable practices, economic incentives, and cultural sensitivity. Basically, there are two questions running through Fashion’s curriculum, research, instruction: What do we owe others, and what do we owe the environment?

If we approach fashion & apparel with this much forethought—this much sensitivity to the ethical implications of our work—imagine the sciences. They are immersed in ethical considerations.

And here I need to acknowledge UD’s Science, Ethics & Public Policy Program. The program’s purpose is to inject ethics into university curricula, corporate innovation, and government policy-making—to spur dialogue among academic, industry, and public advocates, and secure public/private cooperation around emerging technologies where there’s significant ethical concerns.

The program grapples with difficult issues: What are the implications of stem cell research? When does gene therapy become genetic enhancement? It’s an awfully easy line to blur. And there’s a lot of incentive to blur it. What are the ethics of engineered foods and transgenic crops? How should we approach energy use and conservation? What are the ethics of climate change?

I talked to Tom Powers, who directs the program in Science, Ethics & Public Policy, and I asked him what he considers our biggest science-centered ethical concerns right now. He said sustainability is definitely one of them, and then said if you’d asked that of an ethicist maybe 10 years ago, it might not have even made the list.

He credits globalism with this spike. Obviously, climate change is a non-local phenomenon—just look at our key climate change conferences … Kyoto, Copenhagen. Tom says this globalism makes us much more sensitive to those issues that affect the worldwide community, and more beholden to other nations. And it makes us ask difficult geopolitical questions: Where do we get our oil, and what are we willing to risk for it?

Tom also talked about nanotechnology, the engineering of matter at the molecular level. It can be used to revolutionize a host of things: drug delivery, environmental sensing, manufacturing. The federal government spends $1.5 billion a year in the nanotech sector. But only the smallest portion of that money goes to environmental health and safety research—into studying the toxicity of nano-materials and figuring out what they do to humans, animals, and plant and marine life once they’re airborne.

This is science with the potential to do so much good that can, in fact, do so much harm. But hasn’t that always been true? We never knew tanning leather puts arsenic in the soil.

It is different now, though. We’re more aware, we’re more expert, we’ve got better science, and we’re globally connected. We’re paying attention. We know we have the opportunity to examine ethical issues before we commit an unwitting unethical act.

And we know we have the opportunity to lead here. The University’s heavy expertise in science and engineering, and our intense engagement in ethical scholarship, give us a platform to ask that one question fundamental to all ethics research: “What ought we to do?”

I thought I might transition here to what we ought to do in business and in our business schools. I saw the 2009 Business Ethics Survey put out by the Ethics Resource Center. I’m sure many of you have as well.

The survey was conducted late last summer and published at the end of the year—through the absolute depths of the recession. And yet, counter-intuitively, that’s when business ethics spike. According to the 2009 survey, over the last two years misconduct at work is down 7 percentage points to 49 percent; whistle-blowing is up 5 percentage points to 63 percent; ethical cultures are stronger (62 percent of employees reported a strong ethical culture in 2009 vs. 53 percent in 2007); and the pressure to cut corners is lower.

And yet the experts say this is probably an ethics bubble. During times of crisis—when firms are fragile and all eyes are on them; when government intervention and re-regulation are on the table—management tends to talk more about high ethical standards. And misconduct either abates or goes underground.

The same thing happened in 2003, when the dot-com bubble burst and Enron failed … and then Tyco and WorldCom. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was the 2002 version of today’s regulatory and corporate governance reforms.

And so while the ethics news is good, surely we shouldn’t have to weather a recession to see an uptick in ethical behavior.

Ethics in the B-School
UD’s business students are introduced to ethics as undergrads through an elective called Ethics in the Workplace. Our MBA students must take a semester-long ethics course called Ethical Issues in the Business Environment. That’s a more rigorous requirement than is mandated in most universities, which offer a 1- or 2-credit ethics course or just integrate the ethics content across the curriculum.

I’ve talked with Gary Weaver, who teaches the MBA course, and he says what students need to remember is that the people involved in the recent ethics scandals—predatory lending, the derivatives debacle—most of them never expected to get involved in this sort of thing. Very few people intend to defraud others. But they do it. And he says if any of us were put in the wrong situation—with external pressures to perform—a fair number of us would do the same thing.

So this is his primary goal: to educate students that they can get sidetracked by others, by management, by operations, by circumstance. He helps students understand how idealism gets corrupted, how lofty goals get derailed—how they can get tripped up. And they can get tripped up.

The “bad-apple” excuse doesn’t hold water when you consider widespread Wall Street culpability. So we need to help students understand why certain attitudes and assumptions prevailed, why they got taken for granted. We need to make students less cocky in their own abilities, and more aware of their frailties. … Actually, that sounds like the opposite of education, doesn’t it?

But maybe it’s just a factor of age. In general, it’s the young MBA students—those fresh out of undergrad—who think they’re incorruptible. Their 35- and 40-year-old classmates have a better grip on what’s out of their control. There are very real generational differences. Scores on standardized measures of narcissistic behavior and cynicism are higher now than they were a generation ago.

You do have to think about these things because the employees you’re bringing in today are very different from their older colleagues.

But I think I need to level a defense for our young people here, so I’ll tell you that the Millennial Generation is the most civic-minded since the generation coming of age in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Adjusting for education and income, they’re just as likely to give charitably and to give as much charitably as any other age group. And they’re giving more than money. They’re giving time and talent. They’re willing to put aside a measure of their own personal advancement to improve society. And most cheating measures—like plagiarism and test-copying—have remained pretty level for a long time.

Of course, all this is just ethics at the individual level. We need to instruct students, as well, in ethics at the organizational level (what businesses should be doing) and at the societal level (what businesses should do for the world).

I want to talk about that last level for a minute. We have to get students to understand that business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. A successful society might produce a successful business. But a society with pernicious problems absolutely cannot. And so if business success depends on societal success, we need to think hard about our external impacts and collateral damage.

More and more, corporations will get called on to fix the societies in which they operate. In many nations, when institutional systems fail, it’s often the corporate world that’s the only player on the scene with the resources that can make a difference. As global business and industry get even bigger, the world is going to expect corporations to leverage their position for the good of society.

Because, globally, there is no government. Only business is transnational, and so business will be asked to intervene. Of course, the problem is that business doesn’t answer to the same people that governments answer to. And that’s maybe our next ethical kettle of fish.

I know we often try to rationalize the hard work of ethical action by telling ourselves that good ethics is good business. But you know as well as I do that this just isn’t always the case. Sometimes making the right decision doesn’t benefit your bottom line at all. But if imagining it does helps you persevere ethically, who am I to deter you?

UD as an Ethical Institution
I’ve talked about some big ethical issues. I’ve talked about how we educate students to be ethical decision-makers and ethical citizens. Now I want to expand on the University of Delaware as an ethical institution.

We’ve established our own ethical framework. It’s our strategic plan—our Path to Prominence. In it we identified our core values—those principles we won’t compromise—and then we predicated our goals on them.

Delaware First
Our first principle is aptly named: Delaware First. As Delaware’s flagship university, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that every Delawarean has access to a top-quality education.

And so, a few years ago, we launched our Commitment to Delawareans, the University’s assurance that in-state students will have a place at UD. We outlined the courses that Delaware high school students should take and the grades they should earn in them. And we said if they took those courses and earned those grades, they’d be admitted to the University. Period. No more hoops to jump through.

This past fall, we took that Commitment a step further. We began meeting the full demonstrated financial need of incoming Delaware freshmen—up to the full cost of tuition, room & board, books, and fees. And we’re limiting their debt upon graduation. Our goal is to cap students’ debt at one-quarter the cost of a four-year education at UD.

This year, 435 freshmen—more than one in three in-state students—shared in $2.7 million made available through the program. We’re in the home stretch of our fall admission season right now, and we’ve received applications from nearly 2,800 Delaware students. We’ve offered admission to all but 300 of them. That’s an 89-percent admit rate.

In this economy, our Commitment is a lifeline. It’s making college possible for hundreds of Delaware students and easing the financial burden on their families.

But as I said, our constituency is far larger than our enrollment. We must apply our strengths and resources to benefit the greater Delaware community. This is our land-grant mission. And it is achieved every day through our innumerable outreach and service programs—programs that empower families and build neighborhoods, programs that secure individuals’ health and well-being, programs that uplift and ennoble.

Our second immutable principle is diversity. We have an ethical responsibility to foster equity, inclusion, and diversity—to create an atmosphere where all people are welcome and feel welcome. Because we won’t be able to say that the University of Delaware is the best it can be until we can also say that absolutely every single person there is contributing to its greatness—that we’re developing the talent of all our students and enabling each one of them to use that talent to improve the world.

Greatness doesn’t come from nurturing the majority. Greatness comes from enriching all.

I can position this as a moral imperative, of course—and it is. It’s ethical. But it’s also exceedingly practical. The University can’t afford to be deprived of the talent, the passion, or the promise of any student.

Diversity also entails cultivating critical thinking and intellectual freedom; tolerating different opinions and ideas; and respecting those who espouse them. This is a principle that’s often tested. It was tested last week when a student-sponsored exhibit drew widespread complaints. And that’s when you explain that speech doesn’t have to be civil, or respectful, or even accurate to be protected. Free speech is just that; it’s free. And that’s why it needs protecting in the first place. And then you hope the speech finds more constructive ground, so that true discourse can begin—discourse that elevates rather than debases. That’s the very heart of higher education.

Our third principle is partnership. Through partnerships, we will serve as an economic engine for the state and the region. We will build knowledge and promote ideas that serve the state’s critical needs.

In the 21st Century, there’s no doubt that a principal role of a top-tier research university is to innovate—to develop the new ideas, technologies, products, and processes that have the capacity to revolutionize local and regional economies. We’ve taken a leading role in economic development and—with our partners—we’re actively building Delaware’s capacity to sustain high-growth sectors.

Last year, we entered into a groundbreaking partnership with Thomas Jefferson University, Christiana Care, and Nemours. We’re pooling our assets and expertise to undertake cutting-edge bioscience research; to expand the pipeline of highly qualified health professionals; and to improve healthcare delivery statewide. We’ll soon be a regional healthcare hub.

In January, we signed a broad R&D agreement with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground. We’ll partner with APG in education, training, and employment opportunities—and in next-generation engineering R&D.

Both of these partnerships will have a home on 272 acres of land adjacent to our South Campus—land we purchased last fall from the Chrysler Corporation. We’re redeveloping the property into a major science & technology campus, where we’ll locate University- and partnership-based research—in biomedicine & biotechnology, chemical and materials engineering, environmental science and alternative energy—all of them sectors that will drive significant and sustained economic growth.

Also located on the property will be entrepreneurial businesses—small startups and spinoffs based on these breakthroughs. Because creating a culture of entrepreneurship—supporting risk-taking and risk-takers—this is hugely important to the innovation economy. We need to get more research out of our labs and more science onto the street. We need to turn our intellectual assets into something real—something that will actually benefit humanity.

Our fourth principle is Engagement. We have an ethical responsibility to engage the University community in the most compelling social, cultural, artistic, and scientific challenges of our age. We must address important issues like social justice and sustainability.

I’ll just speak quickly to the second of those. As part of our Path to Prominence, we said the University of Delaware has a responsibility to protect the environment; to reduce our carbon footprint; to secure our natural resources; and to work toward sustainable energy solutions.

So we committed to reducing our carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and securing 10 percent of our electricity from clean-energy sources. Right now, there’s a 400-foot on-shore wind turbine going up on our Lewes campus. The 2 MW turbine will supply enough carbon-free electricity to power the entire Southern Delaware campus and, at times, sections of the surrounding community.

But looking beyond our institutional goals, we’re making UD into a true international resource for environmental research, technology, education, and policy. Our Energy and Environmental Policy major is the only undergrad program in the region that integrates policy analysis, economics, social and natural sciences, and engineering so that graduates have the cross-cutting skills they need to really shape the nation’s sustainability conversation.

We’ve launched interdisciplinary research centers like the UD Energy Institute and the Delaware Environmental Institute—again, to bring together the science and policy that will lead to meaningful change. Our College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment is a leader in conserving land and marine resources. The college puts its groundbreaking research to work every day—here and around the world.

Our final principal is impact. We have an ethical responsibility to be a citizen university; to be globally aware and globally engaged; to ensure that our programs, discoveries, inventions, and innovations have a real and significant impact on the citizens of this state and on people around the world. Our students must understand the economic, environmental, ideological, political, and social issues that face the world—and they must have the ability and the inclination to help solve them.

In fact, this is what it all boils down to: We have an ethical responsibility to help solve the most pressing problems of our age.

I want to end on what that responsibility looks like from a student’s perspective. Last year, more than 12,000 UD students—well more than half our student population—volunteered for service projects. Altogether, they donated more than 140,000 hours of their time.

Here’s just a glimpse of what they were doing.

  • In a years-long series of trips to Cameroon, groups of engineering students are installing solar-powered water pumps in the western part of the country—providing enough clean water to supply several villages.
  • A group of accounting students linked up with a community development corporation here in Wilmington and donated 3,000+ hours to helping low- and moderate-income residents determine their eligibility for the Delaware earned income tax credit.
  • One service project that started with a group of students teaching English to children living in India’s slums turned into an academic partnership with an Indian NGO running 72 schools in the country’s poorest communities.
  • Two computer science majors worked with the Chester Community Charter School to distribute laptops donated under the One-Laptop-Per-Child Program. Discovering 1,400 laptops on the school’s shelves—still boxed—the pair began providing tech support to the school’s teachers, and gave its students customized training.

That’s transformative. And that’s ultimately what students’ experience at UD should be. Higher education should transform students—it should help them discover and pursue their true passions. And that experience, in turn, should transform the communities in which they live and work. If we succeed in this, we will have fulfilled our obligation to them, and our obligation to the world.

I thank you for the opportunity to talk with you tonight.

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