J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Marianne Jennings: The Intersection of Law, Ethics, and Religion

Conference participants were treated with a thought-provoking—and sometimes humorous—ethics lecture by Marianne M. Jennings, Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University School of Business. Jennings cited several examples of bad behavior by corporations, individuals, and educational institutions. Examples included but were not limited to a peanut company that knowingly sold peanuts tainted with salmonella resulting in the deaths of eight people, students who feigned illness the night before exams, New York City marathon runners who took the subway during the race, the Penn State Sandusky molestation scandal, and Lance Armstrong’s illicit use of steroids.
The institutions and people in Jennings’ examples all felt pressure from the potential to lose or gain something of perceived or real value. They responded to the pressure with an ethics breach.  Jennings discussed psychological tools we can utilize in future crises to “trump” pressure, thereby increasing the odds of making an ethical choice. Studies show that individuals respond more ethically under pressure if they feel more accountable. Accountability increases when individuals are required to “double sign” documents at the top and bottom. Ethical behavior is more probable when individuals are reminded of the reasons behind the rules. Jennings relayed a story of a university lab that had three rules: no entry after hours, no working alone, and restrain long hair. Despite these rules, a female student persuaded a security guard to let her in the lab after hours where she worked alone with her hair unrestrained. Her hair caught on fire, and tragically, she died. Perhaps had the reasons behind the lab’s rules been explained, the student and/or security guard would have complied with them. Finally, Jennings taught the “2-3 or 5 year” plan as a method to help make ethical choices under pressure.  Similar to maintaining an eternal perspective, individuals can alleviate feelings of pressure by setting a long term plan in which to recover from the fallout that an ethical choice would bring. 
By Julie Smith

Posted: March 10, 2015