"Apprentice" Becomes Catalyst for Ethics Discussion
OGDEN, Utah – While it's debatable whether Donald Trump would be viewed as a paragon of good business ethics, Weber State University business students hope his show "The Apprentice" might jumpstart conversations about morality in the boardroom.
The WSU chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) has created a Web page where members of the community can weigh in on ethical dilemmas that arise during each episode.
"Ethics is not black and white, and we would like to see how people's opinions and thoughts differ on various issues," said Andrea Southwick, a senior finance major who helped create the page at
Southwick, a resident of Eden, Utah, came up with the idea following a conversation with Mike Vaughan, dean of the John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics. Her concern was the show provided an unrealistic depiction of how business people should behave.
"I think that people are watching it because of the popularity of Donald Trump," Southwick said. "This is the first reality show to portray a corporate environment and they are doing it inaccurately. It's just entertainment, not real business, and many people don't realize that."
Nationally, critics have questioned some of the decisions participants have made. Those same critics have been even more vocal about Trump rewarding or praising contestants for seemingly unethical behavior.
Early discussions on the WSU Web page have focused on Trump's differing approach to male and female contestants and whether winning at all costs supercedes ethical decision making. Southwick said she hopes the site will attract viewpoints from students, faculty and business professionals and produce meaningful discussions, in some cases providing a different perspective on a topic.
Professor Denise Woodbury, faculty advisor to WSU's SIFE students, said the page is already producing the desired results. Last week, Brigham Young University-Hawaii used the site to spark discussion during its annual "Business Ethics Week." The ensuing electronic debate attracted hundreds of responses from 18 countries, eight states and the District of Columbia.
Woodbury said the idea is to get people thinking about what is ethical and offer students a glimpse into potential pitfalls in the world of business.
"Students often mistakenly believe their own ethical positions are unquestionable, but when faced with tough decisions in the real world, their perceptions are tested," Woodbury said. "One of the fundamental lessons that I try to teach students is that once lost, you can't buy back your reputation."