Hoffberger Center Celebrates Quarter Century
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, a series of scandals on Wall Street involving “junk” bonds that violated securities laws grabbed the nation’s attention as well as that of Baltimore’s Hoffberger Foundation. The businessmen behind the philanthropic organization at the time were concerned about the message young people may have been receiving—that turning a profit was the only thing that mattered in the workplace.
Consequently, the foundation’s board approached the University of Baltimore with its concerns, and thanks to matching grants from both the Hoffberger Foundation and UB, the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics was founded in 1987 with assistance from then-Provost Catherine R. Gira and under the direction of Professor Emeritus Vince Luchsinger, then a professor of marketing.
In April, the center celebrated its 25th anniversary during its annual Ethics Week, which includes highly interactive seminar-style programs such as “Wal-Mart: The Moral Cost of Being Cheap” and a keynoted luncheon, which this year featured Lenneal Henderson, distinguished professor in the College of Public Affairs, performing a one-man, one-act “living history” about former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. (See “Meet a Faculty Member.”)
“The Hoffberger Foundation had the opinion that if students were being forewarned about ethical problems they might encounter in the workplace, they would also be forearmed in how best to deal with difficult situations that might arise,” says Fred Guy, associate professor in the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences who has directed the center since 1994 (and co-directed it for three years prior). Such difficult situations include conflicts of interest, nepotism, competition or more subtle aspects of professional behavior like socializing with employees, using work time to pursue personal agendas or even banning employees from dating others within the organization.
While some cases of right vs. wrong are abundantly clear, the issues that UB students often grapple with through the center are not so cut-and-dried. For instance, Guy continues, 21st-century ethics are influenced by the world’s rapidly changing technology landscape, and these technologies played a pivotal role in the Boston Marathon bombings in April. “People were passing so much information from their cell phones and other devices to police that they were able to make arrests relatively quickly, which is a good thing,” he says. “On the other hand, [the bombers] allegedly used the Internet to get the instructions for making those bombs.”
Guy also points out that there is no universal code of ethics that all cultures agree upon, nor is there a universal standard of morality. “But we need to try to work toward that, and we are trying to take the best from each culture and eliminate the worst,” he says. “And to have all cultures agree upon a universal code of human rights. … If we work toward a framework of universal values, that will go a long way toward negotiation, communication and fostering humanitarian positions around the world.”