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Carroll School of Management Dean Andrew Boynton leading a recent session of the CSOM freshmen ethics class Portico. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Making the Connections

Carroll School's Portico course for freshmen links ethics, leadership and globalization

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff
Published:
Classes had yet to start, but on the last day of summer break nearly 50 Carroll School of Management freshmen were speed-walking through the streets of Boston on the heels of historian Mike Chapman as he revealed both the noble and notorious landmarks of business innovation in Massachusetts.

"In the floors above in this building next to us were the offices of Charles Ponzi. Maybe to some of you that's a familiar name," said Chapman, who went on to explain the home of the infamous something-for-nothing "Ponzi scheme" at the corner of School Street and an alley still known as City Hall Avenue.

As other students unpacked boxes in their dormitories, these Carroll School of Management students spent Aug. 29 touring downtown Boston and historic Lowell. They were looking back at history before embarking on a new course for freshmen, Portico, that will ask them to look to the future and their role in it.

Portico was designed to meet one of the biggest challenges business schools face: the need to teach undergraduates business ethics in a way that connects with both the student and the real world.

A major initiative of CSOM's Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, Portico's combination of lectures, visits with seasoned executives and hands-on case studies place students at the intersection of the three driving forces of business education today: ethics, leadership and globalization.

"We can't teach business ethics in a vacuum – we have to bring it to life so the subject really resonates with our newest students," said Carroll School Dean Andy Boynton. "Portico connects ethics with leadership and globalization in ways that will equip Carroll School undergraduates to recognize and respond to the ethical challenges of contemporary business."

In that sense, Portico also prepares freshmen the rest of their undergraduate program and for many of the ethical challenges they will face in life.

Back on the streets of Boston, the freshmen were getting a view of Boston many had never seen. For others, it was exactly what they were looking for.

"One of the reasons I chose Boston College was the proximity to the city," said Michael Fernandes,'12, of Milford, Mass. "We're studying business and everything we're studying is going on right here in the city."

Supported by a large gift from an anonymous donor, Portico will expand next year as a mandatory course for the nearly 500 freshmen who enter the Carroll School.

The broad scope of the course led to the creation of an interdisciplinary team of faculty and guest lecturers, including post-doc tour guide Chapman, Assoc. Prof. David Quigley (History) and Assoc. Research Prof. Richard Spinello (CSOM), as well as Boynton and CSOM Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Richard Keeley. Guest lecturers include local executives.
For Quigley, working with colleagues at CSOM has been a rewarding experience.

"Andy Boynton and Dick Keeley came up with a great idea to energize the freshmen experience by bringing together faculty and expertise from across the University," said Quigley, who last week was appointed interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

"This is one of the most exciting projects I've participated in at BC and a great chance to figure out what we do well and how we can do better."

In the wake of scandals such as Enron and WorldCom, undergraduate business programs revamped their ethics courses and many now are in the process of further fine-tuning instruction on the topic. At the same time, leadership and globalization rose to the fore of business study. A working group of CSOM administrators and staff in the summer of 2007 saw a unique opportunity to combine the three topics into a freshman course guided by the institution's Jesuit tradition of discernment.

Keeley says the course requires "fine-grained encounters" with business leaders, case studies involving local companies and team projects.

"For the student as he or she goes through a business program, there is a practice of discernment," said Keeley, who also directs programs in the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics. "But it is not simply lining up strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It's about determining what your heart's desire is. What are you being called to do?"

Ed Hayward can be reached at ehayward@bc.edu.