Should a chemical plant spend $20-million to treat and destroy contaminated soil or continue to store the waste at relatively low cost but at some risk to the environment and the health of local residents?
That was one of the hypothetical dilemmas facing students participating in a business ethics case competition held at Dalhousie University. Relaunched last November after a two-year hiatus, the event drew teams from six Canadian and two U.S. campuses to participate in the three-day case competition that was judged by volunteers from government, corporations and academe. The university will repeat the event this coming November.
“The theme of corporate social responsibility was chosen for all three cases because of the state of events in the business world,” says Matt White, an undergraduate management student at Dalhousie who organized last fall’s event. “We thought it was appropriate.”
The four-person teams had to analyze complex situations in a real-life context. Their presentations were judged not only on the ethical but also on the financial, legal and social results of their decisions. The students had four weeks prior to the competition to prepare for the first case. They could use any outside resource, including professors and industry experts.
For the second case, though, the teams had only four hours to read the case, discuss the issues and pull together a presentation.
The four highest-scoring teams advanced to the third case, where they again had only four hours to prepare. “The energy in the final round wasn’t about who was winning but about the greater good of the issue at hand,” says Mr. White. Ultimately, Western’s Ivey School of Business won the first prize of $5,000, while the teams from Queen’s and Memorial universities finished second and third, respectively.
“The students learn from the competition in a number of ways,” says Dalhousie management professor Paul Brown, the event’s academic adviser.
“They learn how to function as part of a team. Also, making a presentation in front of a knowledgeable audience is an invaluable experience. And they get to know business students from other universities. They also have the opportunity to hear stimulating guest speakers at the conference that accompanies the competition.”
“We’re aiming to have 12 to 15 schools take part in this November’s event,” says Haley Drew, who has succeeded Mr. White as chair of the competition.
The theme is expected to be stewardship ethics, a version of corporate social responsibility developed by American social scientist Daniel Yankelovich.