During the onset of University Mission Week, one of my management professors and I were discussing whether our University’s graduates, who are formed to integrate the Lasallian principles of faith, service, and communion in their work, mix ethics well into the world they are supposed to improve after graduation.
My professor was telling me about that DLSU’s students should be, and are, ethical in a world that undervalues ethics, despite clear social crises that illustrate solid dints in the character of public and business leaders, such as in Enron Corporation 12 years ago.
The thing with these solid dints to integrity is that they do not come in the form of singular grave decisions with massive repercussions. Instead, they come in small decisions that pile up to become a singularly disastrous repetition of bad decisions, leading to even worse consequences. These seemingly passable errors are the result of weak vigilance and management that knows not how to nip weeds in the bud as they sprout, bypassing systemic anomalies with the justification of an unquantifiable, soft ‘human’ logic. Pakiramdam sa tao, minsan lang naman.
Given that some of these best business and political leaders from all over the world have earned their pedigree in international brands like MIT, Oxford, and IESE, the question of an ethical education in institutions like De La Salle preventing these crises arises. The very fact that ‘ethics’ is relegated to an ‘idea’ as something dislodged from actual practice and cases is self-defeating; paradoxically, if the professor is unprepared or merely moralizes without making that connection, it is precisely how an ethics discussion denigrates itself from its original, noble purpose.
The discussion falls on deaf ears, ears attached to a head that has mastered the art of writing ethics reflection papers that contain all the buzz words necessary to get that easy 4.0 in ethics or corporate social responsibility class: ‘empowering’, ‘sustainable’, ‘development’, ‘grassroots’ ‘stakeholder relations’. But in terms of ethical dilemmas, poor decisions that are supposed to be anomalous or exceptional become erroneously fundamental, and what is fundamental becomes social, impacting ‘stakeholder relations’ in ways worse than the very stakeholders can imagine.
Students might perceive the world outside—the world mired with issues and perplexing institutional problems, with big bad executives who are willing to compromise the common good and forsake bygone ideals to running off with not only stakeholder’s but the nation’s equity—as the world ‘out there,’ a ‘real world’.
For as much as it’s worth, the University is not that world: it is fashioned as a world of preparation, a cushion, a shield where self-development and improvement matures in the individual, exempt from the rules of outside, where mistakes are lesser in gravity to incidents like the Aman Futures scam or the Padcal mine waste leaks. It is an ivory tower that takes pains not to be one and cultivates very ideal ideas for ‘application’ into the world.
Or is it?
The case with the University is that it should indeed be that ideal. Take it from our very own USG. The USG was formulated with three branches – the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary – based on the Philippine Republic’s very own operation under three branches. This was all in line with trying to prove that these branches could in an ideal setting work to foster the best interests of its constituents. And this is just one example of a system that should be better in this University: all other subsidiary systems run by both the administration and the students are definitively challenged to surpass whatever integrity there is in the ‘real world.’
But what happens when these structures in already a supposedly ideal setting, struggle as they might, report a lackluster performance? Technically, the systems developed within the ‘protected’ environment of the University should outperform their Philippine counterparts as the same constraints do not apply. As is the case, the sicknesses of human organizations are never free from the equation because certain systems within the University are by their very composition and legal justification geared not towards the actual attainment of goals, but towards ‘institutionalization’ and procedure. The saddest part is that such systems have suffered from the same plague as, say, mismanaged agencies in our government: where the guiding law is clear, its execution is arbitrary.
Lamentable it may be that where universities, particularly our University, is thrust into that position to become the perfect case, the mold upon which we desire society to function, suffers from a disparity in its guiding principles and their realization by the members of its community in their activities.
But it is lamentable only in as much as the members of the University community are liable where its systems have that responsibility to be a model, a guide for the world outside, they are instead guided by the workings of that very world, while pretending not to be subject to its dynamic. Inside we could see the same, if not worse—organizational ethic that has dealt its blow to our government bureaucracies. The future starts here, yes, but hopefully not in this way.
We are taught ethics, and it may be difficult to incorporate this given our status in the University, distanced as we are from the industry and the government that we will soon be dealing with or part of, making the same decisions whose repercussions shape our sense of national ethics.
But in the small ‘insignificant’ associations we become part of in University life, in student and administrative processes and organizations, do we not have a responsibility to prove that real world wrong for being the way it is, and showing a more enlightened path?
Unfortunately, there is an institutional pretense, ranging from slightly conscientious to the delusional, that we are all guilty of keeping up, and should be motivated to defeat if we are to justify our very existence as a University that continues to teach minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.