The Dean, That “Tone at the Top” Thing, and the Sting of “If I Did That . . . “

Dr. Atul Gawande gave a terrific address to the 2010 crop of new docs graduating from Stanford University. You can read that address, “The Velluvial Matrix” in the June 16, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. The graduating docs at the University of Alberta were apparently able to hear the same speech and follow along on their smart phones from The New Yorker reproduction as their dean, Dr. Philip Baker, used word-for-word passages to offer “his” thoughts to them. The address is funny, insightful, and motivational, but it is Dr. Gawande’s. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the key to meaningful flattery is letting the other person know. Graduating students complained that Dr. Baker did not do that.

The University is investigating, Dr. Baker has apologized, and the hardest part lies ahead. Enforcement is to any organization what integrity is to us individually. We hold fast to our ethical standards because of our integrity. An organization is able to hold fast to its ethical standards only if it enforces them absolutely, unequivocally, and in an egalitarian fashion. The University of Alberta has a fine code of ethics that requires its students to use attribution for passages, thoughts, theories, quotes, and ideas. Expulsion is its enforcement tool for violation of these ethical standards.

The Barometer is reminded of the too-frequent times her own cherubs on the home front have uttered the phrase, “If I did what you just did, I’d be in a lot of trouble.” There was one such embarrassing parental moment when the Barometer cut through a shopping center parking lot in order to avoid stopping at a red light – ironically to get to church on time. A 16-year-old newly minted driver of a daughter muttered, “Do you know how many laws you just broke, Mom?” And she followed it up with, “If I did that, you wouldn’t let me drive for three months.” She was right. How can we expect those within our charge to honor rules that we ourselves break? Oh, that tone at the top is indeed important. But, we are the top, and must assume responsibility for the tone.

Dean Baker is the essence of the tone at the top. The graduating students complained about the Gawande speech because they were thinking, “If I did that . . . “ After being held to rigorous standards, they witnessed a leader doing something stunningly violative of clear standards. Dean Baker’s apology many not be enough if the culture and standards of the University are to hold firm.

The Barometer is grateful to an eagle-eye follower for sending this interesting and evolving incident along.
For more information on what happened and the Gawande speech, see:

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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