April 06, 2017

Students face ethical dilemmas in first PC business case competition

Winning team members of the inaugural Michael Smith Ethics Case Competition are, from left, Matthew Gould ’19, Allison Post ’19, Mitchell Pitkin ’19, and Michael Cruz ’19.

By Deb Hazian

Should self-driving vehicles be permitted for those no longer able to drive effectively, such as the elderly and disabled? Should they be required if they can sharply reduce the number of crashes due to human error?

Those ethical questions and more were addressed by teams of Providence College students during the first Michael Smith Ethics Case Competition, hosted by the Ethics in Business Education Program of the PC School of Business.

The new competition is one outcome of a generous gift to the business ethics program from former trustee Michael T. Smith ’65 and his wife, Jane E. Smith. Their gift supports the program in three primary areas, including student co-curricular activities. Smith, a retired board chairman and CEO of Hughes Electronics Corp., is a former member of the PCSB Advisory Board.

Michael Cruz ’19, left, and Mitchell Pitkin ’19 exchange congratulations as another member of their team, Allison Post ’19, looks on in approval.

Teams in the ethics case competition were required to decide whether a company should enter the self-driving vehicle market while considering three ethical theories and recommending a course of action. Open to all undergraduates, the competition began with 18 four-member teams judged by faculty from six academic disciplines.

Jordan Brydie ’18, right, makes a point as team members Christopher Betuel ’18, left, and Joseph McCormack ’18 listen.

Four teams advanced to the finals, which were held in the KPMG Auditorium of the new Arthur F. and Patricia Ryan Center for Business Studies. Teams presented their case to a panel of judges: Elizabeth Jennes ’14, a market analyst for Travelers; Dr. Timothy A. Mahoney, PC associate professor of philosophy; and Dr. Sylvia Maxfield, professor and dean of the PCSB. The event’s moderator was Dr. Patrick T. Kelly, associate professor of accountancy and director of the Ethics in Business Education Program.

Dressed in business attire, the teams of students first shook hands with each judge and were introduced before an audience of faculty and student peers.

Using sophisticated charts and visuals in their PowerPoint presentations, the teams synthesized their points seamlessly without the use of notes. After making their case, the students faced questions from the judges.

With a strong emphasis on ethical considerations, the team of Michael Cruz ’19 (Wantagh, N.Y.), Matthew Gould ’19 (Bedford, N.H.), Mitchell Pitkin ’19 (West Hartford, Conn.), and Allison Post ’19 (North Attleboro, Mass.) took the top prize of $2,000. They are all students in the business school and will present their case at the dedication of the Ryan Center on April 29.

“My reaction to the win is pure joy,” said Cruz ’19. “We were all really proud of the presentation, but we knew that the other final teams put in a great effort as well. That type of presentation is as real world as it gets.”

“The first-place team did a great job addressing both the broad scope and nuance of the ethical questions the case raises,” said Maxfield.

She praised the competition for its emphasis on experiential learning. “This kind of activity is related to the pedagogy we’re trying to implement across every business class,” said Maxfield.

From left, judges Dr. Sylvia Maxfield, Dr. Timothy A. Mahoney, and Elizabeth Jennes ’14 applaud as the team place finishes are announced.

The ethics competition is one example of how the PCSB has differentiated itself from other business schools in a meaningful way, added Maxfield.

“The vast majority of business schools teach you the importance of ethics. We’ve done it in a slightly different way through the integration of liberal arts,” she said. “Our ethics classes are taught by the philosophy department. We draw on the humanities faculty and active philosophers and theologians as we try to deeply connect every student to the liberal arts.”

“It was a very nice way to tie together what we’ve learned in our liberal arts education with what we’ve learned in our business education,” said Christian Giacondino ’18 (Wallingford, Conn.).

Last year, a team of PCSB students took first place in the 8th annual Berg Cup, an international business ethics competition involving 41 schools and held at the University of Pittsburgh. It is hoped that two members of the first-place team in the Michael Smith Ethics Competition will represent the College at the annual Collegiate Ethics Case Competition at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona in October.