Professor Vince Agnello, Luella Kenny, Dr. Marilynn Fleckenstein, and the Rev. Patrick Flanagan, C.M., are pictured at the International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference.

Niagara University hosted the 23rd International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference Oct 20-22, 2016, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Buffalo, N.Y. The IVBEC is sponsored by the Vincentian universities in the United States: Niagara University, DePaul University and St. John’s University. Attendees came from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Australia.

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., NU president, offered the welcome at the opening lunch on Thursday.

The College of Business Administration was well represented at the conference with several faculty members presenting their research, in addition to presenting collaborative work written with colleagues and recent alumni. The conference’s theme focused on business and the environment.

Dr. Ian Burt, assistant professor of accounting, presented on Tax Refund Salience and Ethical Withholding Decision Making, which was co-authored with Dr. Jay Walker, assistant professor of economics. Dr. Burt discussed the ethics of taxes and explained that they “are looking at how an individual’s expectations of their tax situation will affect their willingness to cheat on their taxes.”

The keynote speaker Friday morning was Luella Kenny, an environmental activist who educates groups and students about the consequences of exposure to toxic substances. She serves on the board of directors for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Kenny’s presentation was titled Bad Business Ethics and Its Adverse Effects and it focused on the struggles of the Love Canal residents with the state of New York, highlighting the state’s efforts to defraud the residents so as to avoid paying for the buyout of homes. During Kenny’s fight, her son lost his life due to kidney failure, which Kenny said the State Department of Health claimed was caused by playing football. Her son was too ill to play football and his symptoms matched that of exposure to dioxin, which leaked into her yard, Kenny said.

Chris Aquino, associate professor of accounting, presented a paper co-authored with Dr. Lisa Williams, associate professor of management, which was titled Employees Responses to a Perceived Negative Management Event. Their paper focused on the very important issue of bullying in the workplace.

“The audience was quite receptive and provided excellent feedback for our research paper,” Aquino commented. “This conference offers a unique opportunity to bring together ethics in business and the Vincentian mission of Niagara University. We are happy to see them hit 23 years and hope that there are many more ahead as an outlet for these critical issues.”

Gina Vega, president of Organizational Ergonomics, was the afternoon’s keynote speaker. Her presentation, Volkswagen: Business as Usual, provided a detailed history of corruption at Volkswagen, calling it the most corrupt automobile company in America. According to Vega, Volkswagen’s CEO stated that he wanted it to be the largest automobile manufacturer in the world by 2020. With their planned emission fraud and marketing program, they achieved that goal in 2015.

Co-presenting at the conference were Dr. Jim Kling, associate professor of management, and his 2015 honors thesis student, Alex Keller. Keller, who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of science in management (specializing in supply chain), is currently working as a production planner at PCB Piezotronics Inc.

Keller offered a detailed cost-benefit analysis of corn-based ethanol production in the U.S. as an alternative fuel source and posited that the federal ethanol mandate is bad policy due to poor economic efficiency, increased pollution and rising food prices around the world. Dr. Kling framed the presentation from a Vincentian and Catholic social teaching perspective, arguing that, as the title of the paper suggests, “Fighting for an end to federal ethanol mandates may be an ideal social justice cause for students at U.S. Catholic universities.”

Vince Agnello, professor of law, and Dr. Burt presented research on The Learning of Business Ethics: Does it Occur in the Classroom or is it a More Comprehensive Approach? They are looking at the differences in ethics education and learning from high school to graduate school. They asked ethics-based questions to high schoolers, freshmen, sophomores, junior, seniors and MBA students. The professors also compared the success of accounting majors vs. non-accounting business majors, and found that accounting students seem to be the best at identifying the correct ethical response.

Dr. Burt also presented with Mike Gentile, associate professor in NU’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, on What College Athletic Administrators Don’t Want to Know. They looked at the accounting of costs in NCAA athletic departments, specifically focusing on activity-based costing and why and/or why not these departments would want to use the practice to understand their expenses.

Joe Winter, assistant professor of accounting, and Agnello presented a paper on Banking and Economic Issues Pertaining to Marijuana. They focused on the legal and illegal issues regarding marijuana, economic effects of the marijuana industry, how a select group of banks and financial institutions are choosing to bear risk and operate with these businesses while the majority of financial institutions just walk away. They also confronted the varying views of certain federal government agencies such as the Department of Treasury, Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Services and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

On Saturday, the morning keynote speaker, Gerry Murak, founder of Murak & Associates and CEO of Sopark, said his philosophy in life is to “always leave things better than you found them.” He said to truly teach business ethics, one needs to make it personal to the students. Ask them to write anonymously about an incident when they faced an ethical dilemma and what they did about it.  Then those incidents could be talked about in class. He explained that we need to stress that everyone will likely be asked to violate their ethical principles, and that to succeed in life, one must be able to know what their line in the sand is and be willing to quit their job rather than cross the line.

Agnello, the afternoon keynote speaker, outlined 70 years of bad decisions by the U.S. government in dealing with highly radioactive uranium, which is currently stored near Youngstown, N.Y.  During his presentation, Niagara’s Toxic Legacy – 70 years of bad decisions, Agnello advised, “We continue to deal with these effects of these bad decisions with radioactive roads and driveways throughout Niagara and Erie counties.”

Special thanks to Dr. Marilynn Fleckenstein, professor of philosophy, Vince Agnello and Dr. Kris Principe, assistant professor of economics, for coordinating the conference.

“As one of the founders and organizers of the Vincentian Business Ethics Conference, I am pleased with the quality of the presentations, and the worldwide reputation and draw that the conference has generated over the past 23 years,” said Dr. Fleckenstein.

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