business law and ethics class in connecticut

The Ethical and Legal Pendulum of Business

The Ethical and Legal Pendulum of Business
BUS 110’s ongoing discussion can provide a moral compass
by Angelo Saba III, Adjunct Professor, General Education, Business Technology and Advanced Manufacturing

I joined Goodwin University in the fall of 2016 to teach IDA 120, a freshman seminar in the General Education Department. After a few semesters of teaching both online and on-ground sections, I began to notice that many of the real-life examples I used during various lectures were instinctually business oriented. Looking back at those initial semesters, and now teaching Business Law and Ethics (BUS 110), I have a deeper appreciation for how business law affects one’s self-awareness, decision making, and in particular, moral compass.

BUS 110 is designed to examine the structure, history, and leading principles of the American legal system and the ethical considerations that occur within a business environment. An overview of criminal and civil law prepares students on court proceedings, business etiquette, argumentative writing, advocacy techniques, regulatory filings, and tax liabilities. In a sense, the course attempts to provide some clarity to the gray areas that surround the foundation of business.

Students often ask me two reoccurring questions that, in my experience, create a mild level of dissonance: “If it’s unethical, why isn’t it illegal?” and “Why is a contract needed among friends?” At the heart of those questions lie two important premises: laws are agreements, and without law there’s social confusion, frustration, and even anger.

In 2014, I wrote an editorial for the Danbury NewsTimes entitled, “Personal seat licenses are indicative of American free enterprise,” which I believe addresses both of these questions. The full article can be read here. Through my research on personal seat licenses (PSLs), I came to understand that unethical business practices aren’t illegal. In fact, if no precedent exists, as in the case of PSLs, the etiquette is left open for debate, but still legally protected by our free market. Also, without contracts — whether written or monetary — a mutual obligation fails to exist. Even amongst close friends, or in the PSL case where generations of loyal NFL fans are affected by overzealous owners, a contract actually brings people closer together since they are flexible and tailored to the needs of both sides.

Another recent example is Martin Shkreli, founder and former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals (now Vyera Pharmaceuticals), who upcharged his company’s infectious disease drug, Daraprim, from $13.50 to $750. When people were forced to pay prices reflecting an increase of thousands of percent overnight, many viewed this as illegal. Yet, seldom are there price control laws in a capitalistic market, so while it may be unethical, it is not illegal.

It can further be argued that price control itself is inherently unethical because it restricts basic property rights, particularly in this case because Shkreli owned the patent. However, prior to his price fix, a contract would have been an important step in having a common understanding about future availability and pricing of the drug for the affected clientele.

One of the most stimulating and personal rewarding aspects of teaching BUS 110 is the opportunity to engage my students in challenging, and even difficult, discussions. This course helps current and future business owners gain a basic understanding of American common law and how it relates to ethical perceptions of money, greed, competition, and trade. I encourage students to take my course to learn more about this pendulum that exists between the ethical and the legal.

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Professor Angelo Saba III graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction. In 2016, Professor Saba joined Goodwin University as an adjunct teaching on-ground and online courses of BUS 110, COM 105 and IDA 120. He is a full-time social studies teacher at Westbrook High School, where he also coaches middle school basketball and junior varsity high school baseball. His secondary level teaching practice includes work in A.P. Psychology, American Law and Civics and since 2015 he has maintained an active audit of College Board’s requirements for teaching Advanced Placement classes. As a small business owner of Résumés by Angelo LLC, he also specializes in résumé and CV design. Honors and awards include: National Youth Leadership Forum Honorary Member; Westbrook Public Schools Teacher of the Year Award Nominee; NEAG School of Education Outstanding Early Career Professional Award Nominee; and University of Connecticut’s New England Scholar Recipient.