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Teach Your Children Well: Concordia Professors Prepare the Next Generation of Ethical Leaders

By The Room 241 Team June 6, 2017

To anyone following world events, the need for ethical leadership seems more pressing now than ever before. Recognizing this need, Concordia University-Portland offers a unique array of undergraduate and graduate-level courses examining ethical leadership. These timely classes are designed to teach Concordia students how to make an ethical impact in their careers and in the world.

Building an ethical foundation

Marty A. Bullis, associate professor of doctoral studies, knows a little something about ethical leadership. He may not have written the book on the topic – but he did write the course. Launched in May 2013, the Doctorate of Education program’s foundational core course, “The Ethical Educator,” is the first class taken by every Concordia doctoral candidate.

“The Ethical Educator” aligns perfectly with Concordia’s core themes of rigor, Lutheran, and servant leadership. The course starts with an examination of personal ethics and the nature of ethical formation. It moves on to examine students’ place in the world, exploring their various relationships, both close (family and friends) and societal (community and global). Finally, students investigate how ethical habits ground and sustain professional relationships.

Dr. Bullis hopes that by the end of the program, students know how “to interact with others with the highest possible levels of ethics, human care, and moral goodness.” Candidates learn how to act responsibly as social scientists, having studied 20th-century failures of human protection. Today, with the whole world in reach through social media, “It’s more critical than ever for us to be aware of how our actions and our communications can affect others,” says Bullis.

Ethical teaching

The course taught by Stephanie Murphy, Director of MAT Programs and assistant professor in the College of Education, is also the first class taken by students in the Master of Arts (MAT) program who are pursuing their preliminary teaching license. As such, it sets the stage for the program and provides “a platform for teacher candidates to explore their own personal and professional code of ethics.” By examining the ethical dilemmas teachers face, engaging in discussions and role-play about the demands of teaching, and finding ways to enhance character development and infuse values into the curriculum, the course fosters ethical thinking in future teachers and administrators.

“We want our educators to be committed to equity and cultural responsiveness, as well as compassionate, fair, and morally grounded,” Murphy explains. “Moreover, we hope that our teachers and leaders will model these traits for their own students.”

Thinking collaboratively, acting ethically

The goal of Professor of Management Kathy Milhauser’s course “Leading Organizational Change” is to teach MBA students that despite the need for businesses to adapt quickly and be agile, flexible, and responsive in today’s ever-changing economic environment, an ethical business leader can do so in a way that doesn’t leave employees disengaged and disillusioned.

“The ethical thing to do is to not leave your employees behind,” Milhauser asserts. “The ethical thing is not to just drive change but to lead them to it, getting their input along the way rather than telling them about it after the fact. When you treat change as a process rather than an event, it’s less dramatic, less scary.” She also points out that while many programs strive to teach students how to lead during times of change, there’s often not much instruction “about how to bring people in and seek opinions, gauge the impact, get buy-in. Not only is it ethical but it’s also collaborative, resulting in more effective change outcomes for the business as well as the individuals involved.”

Milhauser hopes students embrace the sense that ethical business decisions are the right choice for bottom-line reasons as well as moral ones. “I teach them to take a person-first approach. It is almost always also the bigger-picture, longer-term better approach.”

Understanding servant leadership

The syllabus for “Ethical Leadership,” the undergraduate business class taught by Dr. Dana Sendziol, associate professor of management, promises an exploration of “the central concepts in organizational leadership and ethics. We discuss and develop foundational concepts of ethical leadership, consider your personal talents and predispositions as they relate to your leadership tendencies, look at the world we live in, and try to discern ways to increase long-term ethical leadership effectiveness.”

Students read organizational management texts from a range of well-known business authors, and then, through field experience, put the different aspects of leadership into practice. Sendziol teaches students to bring mindfulness and thoughtfulness into their work. As the course progresses, her students come to understand what leadership is and how it can be transformative – in their own community and throughout the world.

Greatly influenced by the work of Robert K. Greenleaf, Dr. Sendziol’s course also examines servant leadership, a Concordia core theme, through the lens of business. Greenleaf coined the term “servant as leader” in 1970 to explain leadership focused on the good of the organization and the transformation of society. Sendziol introduces students to the idea of servant leadership with one of Greenleaf’s quotes, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first… That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.”

Strengthening the core

While Concordia isn’t the only university to offer courses in ethical leadership, the classes taught here tie in perfectly with Concordia’s mission of preparing student-leaders to transform society – the end goals of ethical leadership. So the message is reinforced throughout the campus and across the curriculum.

“It’s such an advantage to be able to speak to a Christ-centered reality that further encourages these thoughts and perspectives,” Dr. Sendziol says. “As faculty, we can ensure that students critically analyze their own decisions and live the message to go forth and transform society, as per the university’s mission. It starts from within, goes out to the community, and then evolves globally.”

Ethical practice

Ethical practice in many fields can be a challenge, and this is certainly the case with community psychology. As Prof. Bryant Carlson points out research and practice of community psychology occurs at the various intersections where society and the individual meet, bringing inherent complexities related to social background, power structures and access to resources, and efforts for social change to name a few (Rappaport, 1977).

Many in the field of community psychology use a social-ecological perspective to understand the intersecting meeting points between people and the layers of society. Given the diversity of our social world, research and preventative interventions involve nuanced interactions between individuals and groups from varied backgrounds, in different social settings, and at multiple levels of a community or institution. Because of this diversity among people and organizations, research and preventative practice in the field must account for a range of objectives and ethical values.

Our MA in Psychology program seeks to train students who can work collaboratively and effectively with highly diverse individuals and groups to identify, prevent, and resolve ethical conflicts in ways that empower all involved and strengthen existing resources using the values identified by the individuals and groups with whom they work.

Service in action

Regardless of where they end up personally and professionally, Concordia students can benefit from these course offerings. As Dr. Bullis points out, there really are no limits to the practical applications of an education in ethics. “Knowing our scope and knowing ourselves can help us in any number of ways and any number of fields. The scope is broad – students can bring their ethical capacities into K-12 or higher education, into business, into organizational leadership, into social science, anywhere.”