1) It’s fall 2020 Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins meet for happy hour over Zoom. They have each read one another’s article in the New York Times: Jenkins’s “We’re Reopening Notre Dame. It’s Worth the Risk,” Steinberg’s “Expecting Students to Play It Safe If Colleges Reopen Is a Fantasy.”
Write a dialogue between the two on the question of whether re-opening college campuses is in fact worth the risk. Have your Jenkins want to learn from Steinberg; have your Steinberg want to learn from Jenkins. In other words, make them listen to one another. But also have them press the cases that they make in their respective articles. (Be sure to cite and quote the articles!) Make sure each explains himself in full; have them pose and discuss critical questions. In the end, indicate somehow who has the stronger argument in your judgment. (By the way, feel free to introduce other fictional characters into the dialogue, including a fictional you.)
Inform the dialogue with the latest data. See the New York Times’s data on cases and deaths and this article (one among many such) on COVID and college campuses. And here is Notre Dame’s case count. (And here are the numbers at King’s.)
2) You are a student at or the parent of a student at or a concerned alum of the University of Notre Dame. You read, over the summer, John Jenkins’s article “We’re Reopening Notre Dame. It’s Worth the Risk.” It’s fall 2020.
You agree with Jenkins that science alone can’t answer the question of whether re-opening Notre Dame’s campus is worth the risk. An ethical framework is needed to evaluate the crucial data that science discovers, gathers, and analyzes.
Write an open letter to Father Jenkins thanking him for his New York Times article and inviting him to reflect further with you. Is re-opening Notre Dame’s campus worth the risk? For purposes of this paper, imagine that you, the letter writer, disagree with Jenkins. You don’t think his argument holds up. (In fact, you think it exhibits the fallacy of faulty analogy.) Give your reasons for disagreeing with Jenkins, but invite him to reply and make clear that you are open to changing your mind. Be sure to cite and quote his article.
3) You are a new member of the Oversight Board a content moderation body created by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg but structurally independent of the company. To date, the board, which consists of high-profile people from around the world, has focused on criteria for removing posts from Facebook and Instagram. But now there is a much bigger, more consequential question before you: namely, whether to allow former president Donald J. Trump to reactivate his Facebook account, which before its suspension, in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, had 35 million followers. If the Oversight Board decides that Trump should be allowed back onto Facebook, Twitter might feel pressure to allow Trump back onto its network, too.
You were randomly chosen to be part of a five-member panel to recommend a decision to the full board. Further, you have been chosen by the other members of the panel to write its report with the recommendation. What does the panel think should be done, and why? Be sure to discuss the power, as well as the responsibilities, of social media companies in our day and age. Draw from the two New York Times articles on this topic that we read in your humble business ethics course at King’s College. Consider as well Facebook’s “Community Standards.” As the Oversight Board’s charter states (article 2), “The board will review content enforcement decisions and determine whether they were consistent with Facebook’s content policies and values.”
4) You are Alex Gorsky the CEO of Johnson & Johnson and the principal author of the 2019 Business Roundtable “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” which broke with decades of corporate orthodoxy to declare that corporations are accountable to “all of our stakeholders” not only or even first and foremost shareholders. Do you believe in ghosts? You didn’t, and you’re not sure if you do now, but recently you had an experience that, well, haunts you. The ghost (?) of Milton Friedman visited you and engaged you in long and harrowing conversation about the Business Roundtable statement. Friedman (?) wasn’t pleasant about it. Again and again he shook his fist at you and rattled his chains, demanding to know, “What is the argument? What is the argument? What is the argument?” Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins
Friedman seemed well aware of the mounting political pressures on corporations, especially in the “COVID economy,” but he could not reconcile himself to corporations’ capitulating to those pressures, which he understood the Business Roundtable statement as doing. As the New York Times reported on August 19, 2019, the new statement came as “an explicit rebuke of the notion that the role of the corporation is to maximize profits at all costs”—the so-called ideology of shareholder primacy that Friedman had powerfully articulated across his career.
Since that night, you have been in therapy three days per week. Your therapist records and transcribes your sessions for you to review. In the first session, you recounted in detail your encounter with Friedman’s ghost (?). Write the transcript of that session. Friedman made his argument about corporate social responsibility premise by premise. He demanded that you respond to his argument and make an argument of your own in support of the Business Roundtable statement. You told your therapist all about it. Make sure it is all in the transcript. (Recount Friedman’s argument premise by premise; also, take issue with some number of the premises!) Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins
5) You belong to the senior management team of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International It is 2015. Valeant, like Turing Pharmaceuticals and Mylan (the maker of the EpiPen), recently has gotten a lot of bad press for its business practices, in particular seeking to “wring the maximum profit out of each drug” it makes (be sure to read Andrew Pollack and Sabrina Tavernise, “Valeant’s Drug Price Strategy Enriches It, but Infuriates Patients and Lawmakers”). One result of this bad press has been a lot of attention from politicians, who threaten government action to counter alleged price gouging. Possibilities include imposing price controls; requiring pharmaceutical companies either to reinvest a minimum percentage of revenues into research, or to contribute the excess to the National Institutes of Health; and withdrawing the patent monopolies granted to drug companies. A result of the threat of government action has been a sell-off in biotechnology stocks. In brief, Valeant’s stock has taken a hit.
Another result has been chaos in the senior management team. The company is in crisis. Whatever else is to be done, it’s clear that a frank conversation is crucial. And so you have organized a team meeting.
For your paper, write a dialogue of that meeting as it unfolds. Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins
Here’s the challenge. The embattled Valeant CEO, J. Michael Pearson, is a disciple of the economist Milton Friedman. Pearson knows Friedman’s work by heart and is a believer in Friedman’s teaching that “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” More precisely, Pearson holds, following Friedman, that executives of publicly-traded corporations, like Valeant, have a duty to do “what I assume our shareholders would like us to do,” namely, to maximize profit while conforming only to the letter of the law.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to you that, if Valeant is to avoid disaster, Pearson’s argument—which is Friedman’s argument—has to be countered. (NOTE: The “you” in question here is the fictional you. The non-fictional you may agree with Friedman.) Moral concerns can’t always be subordinated to the pursuit of profit; maximizing profit while conforming only to the letter of the law, as Valeant has done to date, stokes public outrage, invites government action, and threatens both the company’s and the industry’s long-term prospects. Further, what about the company’s mission! The upshot is that you and your allies on the senior management team need to take on both Pearson and Friedman. (Have your Pearson make Friedman’s argument premise by premise. Make sure that you take issue with some number of those premises.) Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins
Good luck! Pearson, of course, has allies of his own. The most formidable is the economist N. Gregory Mankiw, who recently published an article in defense of Friedman’s position. Pearson normally invites Mankiw to your meetings.
Indicate somehow, at the dialogue’s end, which side, in your non-fictional judgment, has the stronger argument.
NOTE: Valeant was recently renamed Bausch Health. Ignore the name change for purposes of this paper.
6) You belong to the senior management team of the biopharmaceutical company Merck. It is the late 1970s. “Merck scientists [have] discovered that ivermectin, a drug they produced to control parasites in animals, might help millions of people afflicted by onchocerciasis,” otherwise known as river blindness. These millions of people are poor. There is no way that they, or the countries where they live, will be able to pay for the drug. Moreover, it costs around $500 million in 1977 dollars—around $2.2 billion in 2020 dollars—to take a drug through research and development and bring it to market. Yet your colleagues on the senior management team seem intent on spending all that money and then giving the drug away for free! This strikes you as madness, and wrong, for a publicly-traded corporation like Merck. You will not stand for it, whatever the company’s mission statement happens to say! (NOTE: The “you” in question here is the fictional you. The non-fictional you may agree with Merck’s decision.) Laurence Steinberg and John Jenkins
Fortunately, you read, and recall very well, Milton Friedman’s 1970 article, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” You think Friedman got it right! Now you need to persuade your colleagues, who have become, as Friedman put it, “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” And so you have organized a team meeting.
For your paper, write a dialogue of that meeting as it unfolds.
Make sure that you—or maybe Friedman himself, if you can persuade him to attend the meeting (he is still alive)—make Friedman’s argument premise by premise. Also make sure that your colleagues take issue with some number of those premises.
Finally, indicate somehow, at the dialogue’s end, which side, in your non-fictional judgment, has the stronger argument.
7) You are Senator Marco Rubio of Florida You ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016 when of course Donald Trump won instead. You would like to run again for the Republican nomination, so you need to begin to position yourself for that possibility.
What you need to do in particular is to connect with working-class Americans, as President Trump was amazingly able to do. One tweet by the former president (then president-elect) sticks in your memory: “Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers. This is happening all over our country. No more!” (December 16, 2016) But Trump didn’t save the jobs of Rexnord workers like Shannon Mulcahy; the tweet didn’t lead to action. That’s where you see opportunity.
Write an open letter to Rexnord CEO Todd Adams, who made nearly $7 million in 2020, more than half in stock in the company. Tell him the story of Shannon Mulcahy, one of his company’s former employees. Draw attention to the economic trends that impacted her life. Finally, discuss what you would do as president to make the economy work again for working people. (Here you might draw from the proposals in Michael Sandel’s “Are We All in This Together?” [see five paragraphs from the end].)
8) You are the special assistant to the Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson who succeeded Howard Schultz in 2017. Under Schultz, Starbucks became known for its commitment to social justice, to the point that a journalist called, in 2015, for the company “[f]ully [to] embrace the whole do-gooder image by applying to become a certified B Corporation—a company that specifically aspires to make a difference from a social and environmental perspective.”
Johnson has asked you to revisit that suggestion. Should Starbucks become a B corp.? Your charge is to write a memo to Johnson that he will circulate among the company’s executives. Begin by explaining what a B corp. is and giving examples. Then explain the pros of becoming a B corp.; draw here from James Surowiecki’s article, “Companies with Benefits.” Also consider any cons. Finally, discuss the claim of Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber that, in the COVID era, “stakeholder capitalism is a fact.” (What does that claim mean?)
Make sure that your answer to the question driving your memo is clear and well-reasoned.
 Thomas W. Dunfee, “Corporate Governance in a Market with Morality,” in Honest Work: A Business Ethics Reader, ed. Joanna B. Ciulla, Clancy Martin, and Robert C. Solomon, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 492-510, at 494.