Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 2012: Day 1

Four hours is a long stretch to teach.  As I start my day-  when I first get up in the morning, as I'm having breakfast, while I get my materials together and leave the hotel, I face a certain dread.  "Dread" in this case is a sense that four hours is a marathon I can't survive.  But of course I've taught here enough times to   know there's a way to minimize this dread.  It's not really one enormous four hour stretch but three smaller segments with breaks in between.  This is how I try to organize my day in spirit and in pedagogy.

The plan for the first day was:

  • Part I- course introduction (keep it simple and brief, as always), corruption in Panama, the Global Corruption Perception Index, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
  • Part II- the Black Money video from "Frontline"
  • Part III- the U.N. Global Compact and one of my special "Pregunta del Días"
Part I   "Is Panama a corrupt country?"  The students generally said "yes".  Unfortunately I didn't get a lot of specifics, other than the usual (for me) like you always pay a police officer a little something ($10 is common) during a traffic stop.  Also government permits and licenses typically cost a little something extra for the bureaucrat in charge.  But there were no particularly surprising stories.  There was some ambivalence toward President Martinelli and his true motives to reduce corruption in Panama.  In all it seems like the rich and powerful will do what they can to stay rich and powerful.  I did get a sense from the that the poor are really disenfranchised. 

I also shared the Global Corruption Perception Index with them.  It's not a magic list or set of numbers; just a broad indication of perceived corruption.  They seemed interested and not particularly surprised by Panama's place.  I also pointed out the United States' position is not particularly envious; tied for 24th and behind Chile and Qatar.  My speculation is this as little to do with bribes per se than it is the corrupting role money plays in our election process and the lobbying access it affords.  

Part II  I planned on showing the video "Black Money" video which appeared on Frontline in 2009.  I introduce the video with a brief explanation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; what it prohibits (bribery by U.S persons of foreign government officials), what it requires (good accounting controls and disclosures), what is allows ("facilitating payments") and what it includes (U.S. subsidiaries of foreign businesses).  Black Money is especially interesting on this last point because it focuses on how BAE Systems (British Company) gets in trouble with the U.S. government.  

Well the internet didn't do us any favors and after about six or seven minutes it would stall.  So I asked the students to watch the video on their own time.  

Part III  Was mostly about the U.N. Global Compact.  I went online and showed them that several Panamanian businesses are Global Compact signors.  We then reviewed a powerpoint I have, "reasons for" and "reasons against" joining the Global Compact.  

Finally, the Pregunta del Día:  You dispatch cranes and similar equipment for a medium-sized, local company. Due to a recent powerful storm there is a strong demand for cranes to remove debris (e.g. fallen trees). Your company is currently telling clients there is a four to five day wait for a crane. 
A representative from a tree removal company tells you he needs a crane within twenty-four hours to help a very rich client He visits you personally to make an appeal and hands you an envelope with $400 cash. 

Will you take the cash? (NOTE: a few clients will wait an extra day as a result of this wealthy person moving to the front of the line).

May 2012: Starting a new session

Just finished my second day of the ten-meeting session.

I didn't get a chance to post yesterday, after the first session.  I came back to the hotel and had to finish work on my Towson classes.  This is an aspect of teaching here that's been especially challenging:  the scheduling.  The end of the semester at Towson overlaps some with the beginning of the session in Panama.  There is no time to do much planning for the Panama class, such as thinking about to present them material a little differently to a new culture and also a group of students whose first language is not English.  Also once I make a decision about what to include there's not a lot of time to post it on Blackboard and get the copies made.  (I have to be very nice to "Dieter" who does most of the copy work here at Quality Leadership University.  I usually email him something at the beginning of the day and ask for it as soon as it can do it.).  So I'm doing a certain amount of kvetching about how much there is to do, in such a short period of time, and all the competing interests (again, finishing my work at Towson).  But the Towson work is more or less over now (a few small issues still to tie up), so the spotlight returns to the task at hand.

As a general opening comment, I've been coming to Panama often enough that I expect a few rough spots in the beginning.  And actually that's not a knock against this culture or QLU, because the first few days of a semester at Towson can have their challenges.  I will give QLU its "props"; when I arrived about 10 minutes before 800am yesterday morning they had my room ready.  I'm in 302, a very nice room on par with anything in Stephens Hall.  The computer was on, the internet worked, and the overhead projector was fired up and ready to go.  Some other things took a little while.  We didn't get copies of the syllabus until about 900-930.  Some students were there that weren't on the roster (this is what I was really expecting).  Name cards were not ready (this is a small surprise, the previous sessions these were ready to go).  Course packets were not printed (no surprise there, I was getting these go between emails between the university and the small publisher I work with on Friday).  But these are small things really and don't stop the task at hand.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pardon the interruption

Three years later.  I'm getting ready to head back to Panama to teach Business Ethics again, this will be the fourth occasion.

I'm going to try to keep the blog going again.  It's valuable for reflection and keeping certain things fresh.

Also I've just returned from the Inaugural "International Ethics in Education Association" conference at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  I presented some of my first thoughts on this topic and got some pretty good feedback.  So I'm resolved to go at it again.  I'll try to record some pre-departure thoughts on the class and my return to Panama over the next two weeks.

Of course this blog will have to compete with all the papers, miscellaneous grading and general end of semester craziness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 8: Veil of Ignorance and "the Insider".

The main topic of the day, at least for what I was doing, concerned Justice Theory (Chapter 17).

I will admit this is a complicated topic and I oftentimes shy away from it back home. A few weeks ago as I was plannig this course I thought I'd give it a try.

Now that I'm wondering what I got myself into. The text describes several different types of justice and I don't want to just stand there repeating all that. But I'm not sure what else to do.

Last night I came up with an idea, a variation of which I've seen several people talk about. This would be a veil of ignorance exercise, using information either that I knew about this country or they had given me.

I started by giving each student a money card, face down. One the other side of the card would be their starting salary as a young person. I know that somewhere between 35-40% of the country lives in poverty. So I assumed that was minimum wage, $3500/year. So there were 6 cards out of 16 that were poverty cards. 7 cards were middle-income, what I assumed to be $20,000 (a student later told me it should be 30,000, I said fine, change it.). 3 cards were upper-income, $150000.

Before they turned there cards over I told/yet sort of asked, "Panama is a class-based society. More than anything else, how smart you are, how talented, how hard you worked in school and your grades, access to a high paying job will depend on which class you were born into. You had no control over this. You had no choice whose womb you were in. This same circumstance is true in many countries, including my own, the United States." I offered them a change to challenge my premises, anything, before they found out their starting salaries. Nobody did. So I told them to turn the cards over. There was a lot of commotion, some people excited, some laughing out of frustration.

Then there was a second card I placed in front of everyone. This was a "male/female" card. Face down. I told them half the cards were male, half female. I mentioned that in the U.S. women tend to earn about 80% of what men earn. They confirmed that ratio is consistent in Panama. Ok then, if you have a "male" card, you'll be able to multiply your income by 20%, if female there is no adjustment. I tried to allow them a chance to challenge the system, there was none. Pretty consistently everyone would say "well, that's just the way it is". And ten out of 16 students are male. So they had the chance to look at their cards.

Last card... this time I used information they had given me the previous two days. I told them on the next card they would either be "athletic" (the word commonly used in job advertisements to indicate "good looking"), "average" or "feo" (spanish word for "ugly"). I figured 40% could be considered good-looking, 40% average and 20% ugly. Attractiveness I concede could to some extent be influenced by our choice, but again this is mostly a random event. Beautiful parents will have beautiful children, etc. etc. If you get the "athletic" card, you can double your income. "Average" no impact, "Feo", jobs are scare, divide your income in half. Again before allowing them to see their cards I asked if this process was how they had the described their country to me. No one challenged me. Turn your cards over I said. I went around the room, asking who was born rich, who was born male, who was born "bonito/a". Interestingly, no one was blessed with the magic combination. (all my "athletic" people were in the middle or lower class, that's how it came out). They seemed to enjoy the exercise, but I can't say we processed it at a level that satisfied me. They seemed resigned to their fate, maybe that's the lesson.

For what it's worth, a student said to me, "this is the way it is, we can't do anything about it." I acknowledge this and then pointed out that I thought in the U.S. the advantages of being beautiful or "ugly" weren't always so extreme (maybe I'm out of touch). I mentioned you can still live in, work toward, advocate toward a system you think is "fair". That means potentially giving a person from a poor background a chance, or maybe hiring someone that is qualified but not so attractive.

I then showed the film "The Insider". This is my third viewing. It's a powerful film, very long. We will process some tomorrow I hope.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 7: New Belgium Brewing Compnany (Case) and Workplace Rigths

First was passing back yesterday's exams. Without revealing confidences I was basically pleased considering the large amount of material, the limited time and English is not their first language. The class average was 80%, very consistent even slightly higher than typical exam averages in the U.S. That said, some students were a little distressed by their grades. I rather suspected there is a bit of grade inflation here relative to the students. The exam is just three days away now. The objective is to try to align our respective expectations.

The New Belgium Brewing Company was scheduled for discussion today. This is one of my favorite cases and I was really looking forward to it. It's always interesting to spend about 30 minutes doing all the wonderful things NBB does, singing its sustainability praises, then targeting their conversion to wind power. The substantial investment was only possible because the workforce agreed to give up their profit bonuses for five years (I'm assuming it's five years of no bonuses because the case says that's the payback period for the turbines. Sounds like a good number). When I ask U.S. students, are you ready to give up your compensation?, it's fun to watch all the "this company is so great" students retreat. Of course I tried the same tactic with with these students. For some reason I never got the sense that this case or its issues "clicked". It may be an old lesson that I have to relearn many times; each class is different and don't expect to be able to replicate what worked with one class with another.

Fortunately I saved a good question for the end. "What if a Panamanian went to the U.S. to study the New Belgium model. They studied everything NBB does. Maybe even worked there for a time. The Panamanian returns here to establish a company (a brewer, a restaurant, small manufacturer, a service company, anything) that follows NBB's methods. Would it work?" They had some very good ideas.. here's a summary:

- There are cultural differences with respect to attitudes toward the environment and expectations at work. Workers here just aren't used to the same approaches to empowerment, etc.

- There would be a strong need for training about environmental issues and business processes.

- There is a general lack of education and awareness about sustainability in Panama. (This is not surprising for a developing country).

- There would be problems with technical support and infrastructure. For example, no local companies could sell or support these types of systems. The government would be of little help.

- There would be a definite challenge trying to do any green marketing or pass along a green premium in the form of price. Consumers in Panama are very price sensitive.

I was extremely please they came up with these ideas.

The last half of the class we returned to the issue of workplace rights. I had the idea to take key rights topics in the assigned chapter and have two columns on the whiteboard, one for the U.S. and one for Panama. Using my own knowledge and the text, we're able to fill in the U.S. side of the ledger very easily. Then I asked them for the Panamanian side. There were often uncertainites and even disagreements in the class. In those instances I encouraged students to pursue such a topic as a class project (every student must complete a project where he/she connects any course topic to practices in Panama).

Here's the list of workplace rights topics and what they suggested was true for Panama. I figure there's no need to present what is true for the U.S.

1. Minimum/living wage $285/month (that's $1.38/hour)
no juristiction enforces a living wage

2. Legally required benefits Social security type system for pensions
a seniority benefit every 90 days, 10% of monthly pay

3. Workplace health/safety OSHA-type system of standards, inspections, fines
widely-agreed this system was an ineffective deterent
(variety of compliance and corruption challenges)

4. EEO anti-discrimination rules and regulations in place
cultural values/ineffective enforcement are challenges
*see further discussion below

5. Sexual Harassment weak legal system doesn't always protect employees
some MNCs (Dell) have been especially diligent

I'm going to finish up the list tomorrow with three more items: Drug-testing, Surveillance and Unions.

An extremely interesting issue has emerged the past two class sessions, employers will openly discriminate against "ugly" people. For instance one woman told me job listings often ask for a picture of the applicant or will use a requirement such as "athletic". A male student told me of a general manager of a "customer service" unit came through, saw a new employee (male) that was deemed to be "to ugly to work with the public". This employee was fired on the spot. It has caught me a little off guard. I asked about job competencies, and whether some who might be deemed unattractive generally could also present themselves very professionally (clean, neat, etc.) There was a modest concession of the point, but I couldn't escape the sense there was a strong sense that (a) such discrimination was widely practiced (b) was generally consistent with prevailing norms and values and (c) there is no effective legal recourse for such a circumstance.

I'm going to reflect on this issue for a while. My initial reaction is this is fascinating, silly and troubling all at once. But it will take a little while to think more critically about it.

Tomorrow the issue of "cultural relativism" is up. Not sure whether to continue to pursue this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 6: Exam, Rights, Discrimination and Facebook

EXAM 1 in the first section.

Second section I introduced tomorrow’s case, New Belgium Brewing Company. (looked at their website basically). We also discussed the project; a description/topic is due on Wednesday. Then we started a section on rights.

After some of the basics, a definition of rights and duties, I introduced “Dan Keplinger”, as I sometimes do in the states. He’s a Towson U. grad, aka “King Gimp”, severe case of cerebral palsy. When his mother (in the film “King Gimp”) enrolls him in a mainstream public high school, the principal tries to steer her toward a “special needs” school. She refuses. During Dan’s time in high school, he requires resources like a writer and note-taker. The cost of these services is irrelevant, if we say that Dan Keplinger has a right to an education. Utilitarianism might argue against his public education, if it were not for the fact he discovers a gift for painting. The students seemed interested in his story, and wanted to see examples of his work. I showed them on his website, www.kinggimp.com.

After the next break we come back I have written some of the key rights terms (chapter 14) on the board, e.g. social welfare rights, human rights, legal and moral rights and the UNDHR. I have asked the students to pay attention to these in their reading rather than going over every categorization.

I then applied rights to the workplace. “Every U.S. worker has a right to fair treatment”, at least as outlined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Every U.S. worker has a right to be free from age, sex, religion, national origin, race and disability discrimination. (though the first and last one are part of other laws). I asked them about discrimination in Panama.

They tell me that these forms of discrimination are also illegal in Panama, but still take place. For example, there are job advertisements that might say “seeking female salesperson between 22 and 29”. When I asked what would happen if a male applied for such a job, the answer is his application would be taken but he would never be called. I pressed the matter a little further, “how can an advertisement exist if the contents of it are illegal?” there was no answer, just people shrugging their shoulders.

There was at least open agreement that there was little in the way of discrimination on the basis of race. This is a fairly diverse culture racially with a fair representation of Hispanics, caucasians, Africans and Asians here. I rather wonder about national origin, since I hear about immigration issues involving Colombians, Venezuelans, and some other countries.

Sensing it might yield a more interesting exploration, I stayed with sex discrimination. I mentioned the classic flight attendant example in the U.S.; men couldn’t work as flight attendants initially because the job was poorly defined as setting a “soothing atmosphere for the weary business traveler” (something like that). they seemed interested if there weren’t any jobs that a company couldn’t define as strictly for men or women. “Prison guard” or “bridal dress consultant” are examples, but these are very exceptional.

then I was asked about “freedom to hire”? “If it’s my company, can’t I hire who I want? If I want to hire a man, or a woman, or whoever, why shouldn’t I be able to?” There seemed to be at least a couple of people who expressed this point of view. “A business is not a party” I answered. “If you’re having a party, go ahead and invite only men, or only women, only whites or only blacks. But that’s a temporary private event. A business is an on-going public endeavor. If you want to operate publicly, to participate in a very public endeavor such as wealth creation, you cannot deny opportunities based on personal prejudice.” (more or less) I could see some questioning faces, though I was not challenged any further.

I transitioned to the Peter Oiler case. He was a truck driver, fired after twenty years of good service by Winn Dixie stores, for cross-dressing. At first they seemed confused, but as I shared an excerpt from the case, it mentions the company’s position that he might harm the company’s image. The class quickly divided, much like my students do in the U.S. Some feel it’s his own business what he does, and the company is losing a good employee, and the job doesn’t have much of an image component to it; others I could tell thought Peter Oiler was “crazy”, “dangerous”, “something was wrong” (I did press them on this, asking if they were sure, or if they were qualified to give a diagnosis, the few that did backed off, though the essential “I’m uncomfortable with this” remained). They also agreed that in Panama such an employer might harm a company’s image, and might lead to bad publicity.

The Peter Oiler case also introduces the concept of “employment at will”. I asked if an employer in Panama could fire an employee for “no cause”. The students disagreed with themselves; most arguing that it couldn’t be done but they weren’t sure. There was general agreement that (1) Panamanian companies are quite good at finding ways/reasons to fire employees they no longer wanted and (2) to the extent the rationale for dismissal is poor, there is a financial penalty. (lots of wild percentages were thrown around..). I indicated this would be a good topic for a project.

Finally we discussed my Facebook example: a friend loses out on a job because of what he posts on his facebook page (in the example the friend lists “slasher” movies has his favorite, posts pictures of heavy drinking, along with being passed out and with frequent use of profanity). The class divided again, along similar lines to Peter Oiler. Some expressed that employees must remain “professional” at all times; others claiming that your own time is your own business and that “everyone is entitled to a little fun”. There was broader agreement that simply not hiring someone because they drink too much wouldn’t be an effective staffing strategy in Panama.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 5: Utilitarianism/Pinto, "Black Money", Fraud/Whistleblowing

Key themes: finished utilitarianism/Pinto case, PBS documentary (“Black Money”) and chapter 6 on Fraud and Whistleblowing

I started the day checking in with a few students who’d been quiet the day before, I asked if they really prefer to live under a “looser” (i.e. somewhat corrupt) system, like Panama or a somewhat stricter system like the U.S. Again the students I asked seemed to like the Panama system, citing the ease of getting away with things (it’s definitely cheaper to be caught committing a crime or fraud here). I thought about asking what the larger costs/problems are, but I decided against asking this question. I want to be careful about not appearing as if I’m attacking their system.

We finished a powerpoint set on the Pinto controversy. I have two students that argued forcefully that Ford was wrong to allow the car to be designed, manufactured and sold as is. I tried to press the the point that there are always tradeoffs, no car, especially one at the bottom of the pricing structure, could be perfectly safe. Still, to their credit, they stuck with their positions. There may be many tradeoffs but this one seems especially noteworthy. I didn’t get much response to the “value of a human life” angle. It’s entirely likely I didn’t ask it appropriately.

I started a section on “fraud”, quickly touching on some key points (definition, basic characteristics) from Chapter 6. I also presented a recent example of a Maryland state employee that was caught in a scheme where she swindled a state health program out of $1.7 million over ten years. The value of this example is that she was caught after her bank became suspicious. Also the corrective action implemented by the state is more division of labor and oversight; arguably more bureaucracy but it makes fraudulent schemes less likely.

after the first break we watched “Black Money” video (PBS frontline show). The interesting element now is that maybe the developed nations of the world (BAE in the U.K. and Siemens in Germany) are involved in corruption, not the petty kind we so often see in the developing world (like Panama) but the really big kind (at the top, with lots and lots of money at stake).

A student asked almost as soon as it was over, “doesn’t this prove that corruption is everywhere? It always goes on.”

I answered “sort of.” Then I pointed out that two factors still make the BAE/Siemens scandals volatile and difficult to draw a “corruption” is everywhere conclusion. First, that the OECD is still “pushing” the case, though I admit I’m still unclear exactly what type of enforcement powers the OECD has. Second, the U.S. is still vigorously investigating the case (as far as we can tell).

After the second break the president of the university asked for a few minutes to address the class. He did a nice job encouraging them to do well, even pointing out that professors don’t give grades students earn them. This was a nicely timed sentiment, we have our first exam in the next class session. The president took about a half an hour, which left me forty minutes to finish the fraud section (COSC), very quick mention of crisis management and some material on whistleblowers. I came back to Sherron Watkins and Peter Gardiner (BAE case) as examples. We considered reasons why they might want to come forward. When it comes to things that discourage whistleblowers I quickly touched on those elements in the text. I particularly like to pause at “fear of retribution” as a dissuading factor. I cite my fondness for mafia movies (Godfather, Good Fellas, Sopranos) and discuss the concept of being “made” in a crime family. Businesses can also “make” whistleblowers. They seem to like this example.

Exam 1 is next class, we’ll see if we’re ready.