Professor Madoff?

April 12th, 2011 - 13 Comments

In an interview with the Financial Times, convicted Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff said several business schools have approached him about collaborating on ethics courses. A blog post on Bloomberg Businessweek points out that Madoff wouldn’t be the first white collar convict to speak at business schools and mentions that Smeal has hosted such speakers in the past. Smeal’s Linda Treviño, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics and director of the college’s Shoemaker Program in Business Ethics, responds:

It would be ludicrous for Bernie Madoff to lecture MBAs on “ethics,” although he might have a thing or two to say about greed and/or about his current life in prison. 
Smeal has indeed invited ex-cons to talk with our students, undergraduates and MBAs.  These have been uniformly well received by students as an unforgettable educational experience.  The ex-cons are carefully selected.  First, they are out of prison, meaning that they have already paid a debt to society (although they are often continuing to pay restitution).  Second, they must have a clear and unequivocal educational message that explains how and why they took a wrong turn and how students can and should avoid doing so.  They also generally explain the huge costs to their lives (bringing shame to their families, losing marriages, difficult relationships with children, the difficulties of prison life, etc.), and convey their sincere remorse.
Faculty judgment is crucial in deciding whether a particular ex-con will serve a useful educational purpose.  And, of course, any guest speaker should be considered only in light of the broader ethics educational experience.  At Smeal, that includes required courses in business ethics as well as the Smeal Honor Code experience.

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13 Responses to “Professor Madoff?”

  1. John Myers says:

    Right after news of the Madoff scandal broke, I had the occasion to speak with several people who knew him personally … including one whose late husband was a business partner with Bernie early in their careers. They were floored by the news … and could not understand how a person as well respected and prominent (former head of NASDAQ) could have done such a thing.
    I think that these IS value in studying Madoff and his case … in the same way that one would study the psychology of embezzlement … to learn where his ethical compass became broken! In order to live an ethical life, you need to know the potential triggers to a lapse in ethics … and how to recognize them and avoid them.

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