By: Mark Earley|Published: August 12, 2002 9:42 AM
The NAS Study
Note: Chuck Colson is out of town. This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.
Scarcely a week goes by without a news report about the absurd things kids can study for credit at American colleges and universities. As the dad of two college students, I'm particularly disturbed by these reports. But as a recent report tells us, what should trouble us most is what college students aren't studying.
The report was released by the National Association of Scholars who surveyed a random sample of graduating seniors about what they had learned in college about ethics and morals in the workplace.
Their answers make it clear that we can expect more, not fewer, corporate scandals in the coming years.
Nearly all the respondents said that college had prepared them ethically for their professional lives. That sounds good until you understand what they meant by "ethically." Three quarters reported that they had been taught that "what is right and wrong depends on differences in individual values and cultural diversity . . . "
New graduates cited "recruiting a diverse workforce in which women and minorities are advanced and promoted" as business's top ethical priority.
By contrast, "providing clear and accurate business statements to stockholders and creditors" lagged far behind. What's more, honesty and transparency barely outpolled "minimizing environmental pollution by adopting the latest anti-pollution technology and complying with government regulations."
To be fair, "clear and accurate business statements" was the top choice for students going into business. But even among these students, nearly six in ten chose something besides honesty as their top ethical priority.
No wonder we hear about companies cooking the books! While a diverse workplace is desirable, how can anyone seriously believe that it's more important than telling shareholders the truth?
It should surprise no one that businesspeople who are taught that there are no moral absolutes will cheat and will cut corners. That's why NAS president Stephen Balch is absolutely right when he points to a link between the poll results and "the ethical laxness behind the recent scandals . . . "
What is surprising is that many people, especially our educated elites, can't or won't see the connection.
Shortly before the NAS report was released, the Washington Post called attempts to stem the tide of corporate scandals through appeals to conscience "naïve." Instead, the Post called for more legislation and government regulation as if people taught to believe that there is no right and wrong will find it difficult to get around the newly passed laws and regulations.
That's why there's no substitute for teaching a belief in moral absolutes. This is the surest safeguard against the kind of wrongdoing we have witnessed these past few months.
This starts at home. But schools -- from elementary through graduate -- also have a role to play. As Balch tells us, these institutions can confirm the values and beliefs that students bring to the campus, or they can undermine these values and provide students with "sophisticated excuses for succumbing to the temptations of greed and power" -- excuses that will, in time, bring on the next round of corporate scandals.
Each year the Young America's Foundation publishes "Comedy & Tragedy," a report that describes "the appalling nature of the curriculum in America's most prestigious institutions."
Our new "BreakPoint College Survival Kit" includes a collection of resources that will help students understand more clearly what they believe and why they believe it, including: three study guides to How Now Shall We Live?, How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, and more -- packaged in a canvas bookbag.