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Business_Forum_Ethics_The Case of the Killer Phrases

Business_Forum_Ethics_The Case of the Killer Phrases - s...

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Unformatted text preview: s the students of Class 35 of the Marberry Executive MBA program straggled into the classroom for their one-day workshop on business ethics, they stopped by the front set of seats to drop off their written assignments. Professor Stevens chatted with a couple of the members of the group while lining up his stack of cases and videos for the day’s work. Just as the clock reached 8:00 am, the appointed time for the workshop to begin, Max Snell stopped and casually asked, ”Gee, Professor Stevens, our study group did the case write-ups as a group effort. We weren’t sure that was correct. Was it?” Taken a bit by surprise, because the written assignment was to be done by each student individually, Professor Stevens replied, ”Just drop your paper on the pile and I’ll look at it later.” The workshop day was filled with lectures, discussions, videos, and case discussions. Profes- sor Stevens forgot about Max’s comment, but as he got into his car to drive home after the eight-hour workshop, he realized he w0uld have to deal with the group’s nonconforming actions carefully. Busm'sss ETHICS WORKSHOP The business ethics workshop had been taught by a variety of people over the years. Recently, a retired professor of philosophy from New York had come in to teach it. The reviews had been mixed, so the Marberry Executive MBA (MEM- BA) Academic Committee asked Bob Stevens, a tenured senior professor at Marberry State University and past president of the American This case was contributed by Steven N. Brenner, Portland State University. Used with permission. 820 The Case of the Killer Phrases (A) Business Ethics Academic Association, to give the workshop in addition to continuing to teach the program’s Business Policy course. The Academic Committee’s hope was that Professor Stevens, a past winner of the program’s Best Instructor " ' Award, would be able to strike the proper balance between theory and managerial practice. The Marberry Executive MBA program was similar in conception to most executive MBA programs. Students were expected to be promising midlevel and senior-level executives from local and regional organizations. Each student must have an executive sponsor who commits to helping the astudent deal with the pressures inherent in having to continue working full-time while completing the _ MEMBA in two years, attending class on alternate weeks Friday/ Saturday. Sponsors were expected to 3-. - be informal liaisons between their firms (which ' I were paying more than twice what the local university charged for its MBA program). The __ _ financial realities of executive MBA programs .-2 "' include the need to generate demand from large organizations and to maintain cordial and positive relationships so that large numbers of their employ— ees are sent to these more expensive programs. GRADING THE PAPER When Professor Stevens got home around 5:45 . pm. that day, he was bushed and decided to wait _ until the next day to tackle the grading of the workshop’s pass/ fail assignment. The next morn- __ ing, he went straight to the paper turned in by Max 1 Snell, a member of the "Five Aces” study group - (see Figure 1). The content was certainly well ' within the ”pass” range. It seemed odd to him that .I the list of his study group members was hand- mafimimmmwrnwm '-" ""-'=*"""' " ' " - The Case of the Killer Phrases (A) I Case II 82.1- written at the top of the first page of Max’ 3 paper. If this was truly a group paper, why hadn’t the group’s names been part of the printed material? Bob took a moment and went to a copy of the workshop assignment that read, ”You are to prepare an analysis of each case consisting of . .” Why had the other 37 students in the business ethics workshop seen this as an individual assign~ ment, while the Five Aces concluded it was a group assignment? For group assignments, Pro- fessor Stevens had always included language such as, ”Your group is to. as a way of signaling only one version of the work need be submitted There had never been this situation before. Leafing through the pile of 42 papers, Bob selected the Five Aces’ other four papers and gave them a quick look It seemed strange that each of the five papers had both significant similarities and obvious differences. As he thought about the group’s actions, he realized that each member of the Five Aces had submitted his or her own slightly modified ”version” of the various assigned case analyses. Faculty Professor Bob Stevens _ _.__f'r1uufiv rind. suns iris" Involved in the Case I'Of. . __EI Finnish-1 itiJ {HJ (1311! it! . CONCLUSIONS More careful examination of the group members’ papers led to the following conclusions: 1. Only Max's paper listed the other group mem- bers. The other group members had listed them- selves as the sole author of their submitted paper. 2. Each of the five papers was slightly different. For example, the ordering of the five case analyses varied among the group’s set of papers. The wording of each paper’s introduc- tion was different, some had added their own analytical points, and some presented differ- ential or supplemental recommendations. 3. There were a few phrases that seemed to be in four or all five of the papers. These phrases were essential to the communication of some key point or conclusion. Professor Stevens saw these as ”killer phrases”—elements of the group’s analysis that none could bring them- selves to leave out of their own papers. Reflecting on what he had just read, Professor i: Stevens drew some tentative conclusions. First, some imagines-.3"1:: Ethics Workshop instructor and Professor of Business Policy at Marberry State University Professor Tim James Professor of Organizational Behavior at Marberry University and Chair of the Executive MBA Program’ 5 Academic Committee Marjorie Washbum Director of the Executive MBA Program jointly taught by Marberry State and Marberry University Professor Philip Taytor Students Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Marberry University Max Snell Member of the Five Aces study group Alice Johnston Richie Billingsworth Alan Abrams Kent Nichols William Marshall Member of the Five Aces study group Member of the Five Aces study group Member of the Five Aces study group Member of the Five Aces study group Member of the Fearsome Foursome study group 822 Case 11 or all members of the Five Aces had worked together on the five case analyses (the ”killer phrases” were substantial evidence of this). Second, they had planned to submit individual papers under their own names without telling the instructor (evidence for this was that only one had handwritten the other group members’ names on his paper). Third, the group may not have been ”confused" about the nature of the assignment (evidence for this was the apparent attempt at individualizing each” person's paper). Fourth, a potential claim that they thought this was a group assignment was contradicted by their submitting five individual papers instead of only one group paper. CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVES Professor Stevens thought about what he had found and considered alternatives, but decided that he had better get the other papers graded, given the MEMBA’s expectation that grades would be ready within two days of a workshop. As he proceeded to grade the other students’ papers, he settled into a comfortable routine—reading the situation / issue description section quickly, ponder— ing the level of analysis provided, and determining whether the recommendations were persuasive. About two-thirds of the way through the seemingly never-ending pile, Bob came upon a paper with the same ”killer phrases" found in the Five Aces group’s papers. William Marshall's paper was nearly identical to the work of the five who had worked together. Looking at Class 35’s team roster showed that Marshall was not a member of the Five Aces but was part of the ”Fearsome Foursome.” The situation had just gotten extremely com- plex. How had Marshall gotten the Five Aces’ work? Had he been an active participant or just found their work and used it as his own? Why hadn’t his name been placed on the paper Max Snell had submitted? Was that an oversight or a signal that he had really done nothing more than copy (with minor cosmetic changes) the work of one of the Five Aces’ members? Perhaps, even more improbably, the Five Aces could have used his paper as the basis of their work. Bob Stevens was dumbfounded at the picture that had just emerged. Five or six members of the I The Case of the Killer Phrases (A) Executive MBA Program might have con-uni plagiarism (Max' 5 decision to provide the full list. contributors might reduce his behavior belong: ”plagiarism,” because he had provided an accurat .= picture of who had done work on his submitteih paper) One (the individual from the other 5 ' group) may or may not have done any work on paper beyond a modest attempt at concealmen or may have had his paper used, with or without:- .é knowledge, as the basis of the Five Aces papers. The situation seemed to demand action, but Professorl Stevens realized that any explicit action on his par bringing up plagiarism could lead to a lot of work him and serious consequences for those involved-I HOW TO PROCEED? After completing the grading of 36 other busine ethics workshop papers, Professor Stevens sa back in his home office chair and thought abo how to proceed. A variety of questions race through his brain: . Who should he contact first (the students, Professor Tim James, the program’ 5 academic conunittee chair; or Marjorie Washbum, the program’s executive director)? a What evidence, it any, should he develop? - Should a student's motive or circumstances matter? - What definition of ”plagiarism" did the students have? - Did they do something worthy of formal action? - What impact would a formal accusation and/ or determination of plagiarism have on an MEMBA student or on the MEMBA program itself? - Was any action required, given that the ”course” was a workshop and the grading was pass / fail? . What time and effOrt might be required to resolve any issues raised about these papers? Question for Discussion 1. If you were Bob Stevens, what would you do and why? SEI ...
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