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NMSU students win state's first business ethics competition

A possibly rogue state tax collector, anonymous complaints and supervisors turning a blind eye to questionable behavior.

Group shot of NMSU students with their faculty advisers and competition judges.
NMSU won firstt place at the inaugural New Mexico Ethics Competition in March. Front row left to right are team members Ricardo Trejo, Chloe Kuntz-Philips, Emily McGowan, Malcolm Winston; team mentor, Bruce Huhmann; judge, JoLou Trujillo-Ottino, president of Mediaworks; and Doug Brown, dean of UNM's Anderson School of Management. Back row left to right are judges John A. Carey, president of the New Mexico Society of CPAs; Linda Parker, CEO of Retirement Strategies; Loren Kuehne, executive secretary of the Rotary Club of Las Cruces; and Mike Lowrimore, senior vice president and New Mexico regional manager for Bank of the West. (Provided photo)

Finding an ethical solution to that hypothetical situation recently earned a team of students from New Mexico State University first place in the inaugural New Mexico Ethics Competition.

Through its participation in the Daniels Fund Ethics Consortium, NMSU's College of Business strives to teach principle-based ethics to its students. A team of those students competed in an ethics case competition hosted by NMSU and the University of New Mexico's Anderson School of Management on March 30, in Socorro. NMSU took on teams from UNM, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and New Mexico Highlands University.

"I was very proud of our team's performance and its ability to apply principle-based ethics to a tricky ethical dilemma," said Bruce Huhmann, an associate professor of marketing at NMSU and the chair of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the College of Business. "They received the hypothetical situation at 11 a.m. on the day of the competition and had only two-and-a-half hours to put together a presentation for a group of business people."

The NMSU team's case involved a star performer in the Texas Comptroller's Office, Revenue Accounting Division. Complaints received through the agency's anonymous hotline accuse the employee of using aggressive collection methods and abusive language, and accepting "free" box seats to University of Texas football games. His superiors have been turning a blind eye to the alleged behavior because the employee does such a good job collecting overdue sales tax revenue from small business owners. Aside from the anonymous complaints, there is no evidence that anything illegal has occurred, but the situation is raising ethical red flags.

The students first were given roles to play in the organization and held a meeting to try to work out what was really happening. The students then had to come up with a 15-minute presentation to the judges, which would be followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session.

In picking the winner, the judges lauded the NMSU team for successfully tying ethical principles to their solution to the dilemma and for providing thoughtful responses to challenging questions. One judge told the team, "Sometimes the questions were tough, but you managed to give a good point in response."

Business students Malcolm Winston, Ricardo Trejo, Emily McGowan and Chloe Kuntz-Philips, who also serve as ambassadors for the College of Business, fielded NMSU's winning team. Grace Ann Rosile, an associate professor of management, prepared the team for the competition.

"The ethical principles these students are being taught include acting honestly and respecting others' rights and property, which should be used to guide decision making," Huhmann said. "The competition's role-playing simulation challenged the students to follow their ethical principles in a difficult situation that could occur in any organization."

Another group of NMSU students will face teams from the other seven Daniels Fund Ethics Consortium schools at an ethics competition in Denver later this month.

For more information, contact Huhmann at bhuhmann@nmsu.edu.