For years, accounting giant Arthur Andersen guided itself by the motto of its namesake founder: “Think straight, talk straight.”

Somewhere along the way, though, Andersen went crooked.

The company in 2002 was prosecuted for obstructing justice after shredding audit documents of another corporate behemoth went ethically awry — Enron. And the two have had plenty of company since: Tyco, WorldCom and recently Hewlett-Packard are other familiar profiles in the corporate-criminal lineup.

The University of Sacramento hopes it can help businessmen not only think and talk straight, but walk that way, too.

“None of those individuals [involved] started out with the intention of wanting to break the law in order to make more money,” says Legionary Father Robert Presutti, president of the school. “You keep pushing and pushing until you cross a certain line. But how do you know where that line is unless you’ve had some foundational study in the whole area of ethics?”

That is just what Sacramento proposes beginning in January, via an executive master’s degree program in global leadership and ethics. Recently approved by the state of California to offer graduate-degree programs and certificates, 2-year-old Sacramento is the newest U.S. institution in the Legionaries’ global university network. It will offer its leadership and ethics program in cooperation with the Management Institute of Paris, a business school supported by mostly European CEOs.

The program, says Barry Sugarman, Sacramento’s executive vice president, “in many ways is a microcosm of what the university will look like as the university gets larger … in the sense that the founding charism or philosophy of the university is to find and help develop leaders who can play a transformational role in society.”

Slide Stopper

Given recent headlines, the program is something of an entrepreneurial no-brainer.

“As I’ve talked to people about it, not one person has said to me, ‘Why are you doing a program in ethics?’” Sugarman says. “Not one. Everyone understands why we need to take a different approach to ethics in business.”

Is it that corporate ethics are getting worse, or are companies just getting caught more often? Or is it merely a matter of the media paying more attention to the shenanigans?

“Certainly they are getting more attention,” Sugarman says. “I do believe, however, that the quarterly focus that public companies need to take leads organizations to be shortsighted in ethics.”

That’s compounded, Sugarman says, by a fallacy that says doing good is bad for a company’s profits. “Not only isn’t that true, but the opposite is true,” he says. “Only an organization that has an endemic ethical focus can hope to survive in the long run.”

“Enron doesn’t exist anymore,” adds Sugarman. “They’re gone. You have other companies where the scandals were large enough that their futures are in peril. And, when the unethical behaviors of the leaders of a company are known, most people who have an inherently ethical sense will not follow them.”

The shortsighted focus is perpetuated, he adds, by business schools offering courses “that really don’t help [students] take the long view.”

And what ethics are taught, adds Father Presutti, typically center on “how to stay out of jail.”

“It’s not the ability to grasp what is right and what is wrong,” Father Presutti says. “There’s no foundational understanding of what the field of business might be beyond perhaps making money and not winding up in jail.”

Says Sugarman: “Ethics isn’t about compliance. Ethics is about who you are as a person. Who you are as a leader in your corporation or your government agency or your university. Whatever your realm is, ethics is about you.”

Sacramento Way

At the University of Sacramento, by comparison, a commitment exists to immutable truth. “Absent truth,” Sugarman says, “who can speak about how one does right by an individual or how one does right by a society as a whole?”

Students will explore such questions and others through the 23-month leadership and ethics program, which culminates with a master’s degree in management. The 36 credit-hour program begins in January with a course called “Path to Success.” It introduces students to the study of moral principles among topics such as managerial relations, the principles of ethical action and the relations between personal fulfillment, ethical duty and individual self-interest.

That’s followed by 35 more one-credit classes spread to every other Friday and Saturday to accommodate the busy schedules of businessmen. Among Sugarman’s favorites is “Leadership in Historical Perspective,” offered in three segments. “We’ll be looking at leaders both good and bad throughout history and trying to understand what they did, how they were able to do what they did, and what we as leaders can take from that,” he says. “This course is designed to think outside the quarterly box, even outside the annual box, and take an historical approach to understanding leadership values.”

Other classes include “Ethics and Leadership in American Founding,” “Social Responsibility for Executives” and “Conflict & Crisis Management.”

Near the program’s conclusion, students will spend two weeks studying at the Management Institute of Paris. “A fair amount of the curriculum in this program comes from what the MIP has done,” Sugarman says.

Three-fourths of the faculty likely will come from outside northern California, including some from the Management Institute and other European points. “The Legion in its network has the advantage of not just being able to talk about global but actually being global,” Sugarman says. “Having 14 universities around the world gives the ability to do things that almost nobody else can do.”

About 15 to 20 students are expected for each class, the number limited to enhance discussion. Student recruiting begins Oct. 26.

Strong start

The University of Sacramento, the California capital city’s only private university, offered its first classes in 2005 for graduate-degree programs in education and liberal arts. In January 2006, it began offering a certificate in catechetics. Sugarman expects an MBA program to be up by late 2007 or 2008. Law and medical schools also are in the works.

The university currently operates on two floors of a leased downtown office but is in the process of acquiring 200 acres on which to build its permanent campus. A deal could be completed in early 2007, but construction isn’t expected until 2010. A master plan already is in hand, though, and a 30-year outlook expects a full capacity of 7,000 students, 5,000 of them undergraduates.

Like many other universities started in the last 10 years, Sacramento is focusing on a strong liberal-arts core curriculum. It also hopes to develop students who are personally and professionally able to live the university’s motto, Vince in bono malum (Conquer evil by doing good).

Anthony Flott writes from

Papillion, Nebraska.

Information

University of Sacramento

universityofsacramento.org

(916) 443-4760