eyes on the U.S.

My Ethics Professor Is A Criminal

To teach business ethics to students, several MBA programs are inviting convicted white-collar criminals to talk about how they defrauded their companies.

Ex- Enron financial director Andrew Fastow visits Leeds Business School (CESR)
Ex- Enron financial director Andrew Fastow visits Leeds Business School (CESR)

BOULDER - The Leeds Business School auditorium at the University of Colorado is jam packed. Around 1600 students came to hear the star of the day: a 50-something man with short white hair and a striped shirt. His name is Andrew Fastow, and his audience is spellbound.

At the end of the 1990s, Fastow was Enron's financial director, and partly responsible for one of the biggest bankruptcies America has ever known. In 2002, a year after his company's collapse, he was indicted on fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. He cooperated with authorities and served six years.

The conference leaves no one indifferent. "It makes us realize that at any time, we could be confronted with a situation in which we might act unethically," says b-school student Pete Williams. "It's very important for us to think about where we stand, whether we would cross the line."

Three weeks before Fastow's visit, and during the following three weeks, the Leeds held formal and informal discussions on ethics and the failures of the business world. The recurrent question was: what should - and would - you have done in Andrew Fastow's shoes?

"In the seven years I've spent here, I've never seen the student and teacher body so enthusiastic about an event. There is a huge educational value. Stories like Andrew Fastow's are so real that they capture student and teacher attention like no other traditional class," says Donna Sockell, from the Center for Education on Social Responsibility at the Colorado school, who organized the conference.

This isn't the only institution taking such initiatives. For the past 10 years, as financial scandals continue to make headlines, business schools have integrated business ethics to their curriculums, a trend strengthened further by the 2008 subprime crisis.

Many schools invite white-collar criminals to talk to the student about their edifying experiences. Recently, founder and former CEO of the Quellos Group, Jeffrey Greenstein, spoke at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. He had been sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud.

NYSE trader Garrett Bauer was just sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to an insider-trading scheme that made him more than $32.2 million. He has spoken to over 120 colleges since Sept. 2011, including the London Business School and Harvard University.

Glamorizing convicted felons

There is so much interest in these testimonies that specialist firms like "The Pros & the Cons' have made a business out of fraud prevention classes - with testimonials from convicted "fraudsters." Richard Shreve doesn't approve. He is a business ethics professor at the Tuck School of Business, where inviting white-collar criminals to talk to the student has become a ritual. Each year since 2001, an ex-criminal comes to tell his story, but "we never pay them," assures the professor, who knows these events are controversial.

"People might think that we are glamorizing these criminals or reinforcing the belief that all businessmen are crooks. To dispel these notions, we invite more exemplary CEOs than convicted felons. But the conferences with white-collar criminals are extremely popular and foster ethical debates on campus," says Shreve.

Some stories deeply move the students. A mother tells them about how she had to put her two daughters on a plane and entrust them with family friends before she was incarcerated with her husband for double billing. "In all of these stories, there is always a conjunction of three factors: need, opportunity and reason - that is to say the narrative the criminal uses to justify his actions. It's amazing to see how many of them, even the convicted ones, stick to this narrative," says Shreve.

According to him, there is no need to convince students that it's wrong to commit fraud. "They are honest people. But it's very probable that one day they'll be confronted with a professional situation where it is hard to decide what the right thing is. What do you do, for instance, when the legitimate interest of shareholders conflicts with that of the employees?" When the time comes to resolve an ethical dilemma, having crossed paths with convicts might help them make the right choice.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - The Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR)

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ