Company Values: How COVID-19 Has Tested Business Ethos in Higher Education

Image Credit Woltors Kluwer

By Nick Rubright

What is ethos? Ethos, in a business sense, is what a company stands for. It’s not only about making a profit but also how it’s done and why consumers would want to buy from them or work with them. It’s no surprise that every industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter its size or service. Some have been impacted positively, while others have been affected negatively. Businesses have had to prove their resiliency and flexibility through the ever-changing landscape of the past year and get creative in a number of ways.

Some of the pandemic’s major effects on business practices include innovation, pricing strategies, supply chain management and other areas like manufacturing. In addition to these impacts, research shows how companies are adopting different types of organizational structures such as agile methodology, which may be more suited for a world with limited resources – not only materials but also talent pools.

These changes have extended to higher education circles and education technologies. As a result, COVID-19 has been a test of the ethos that has existed in higher education. 

Significant pressure has been put on universities and colleges when it comes to COVID-19. 

Universities and colleges exist to train the next generation of thinkers and problem-solvers, while simultaneously providing a significant return on investment for the future of the institution. However, the current educational model falls short of this goal, and COVID-19 might be the propelling factor to push higher education into a more competitive field. The education system will need to adapt to keep up with the changes in business structures. Increasing student debt and students graduating without job prospects are creating a downward spiral for the next generation of workers.

Preparing students for the job market can be achieved through maintaining an environment that facilitates new ideas, provides open dialogue among groups of people in varying disciplines and fosters creativity. Universities are meant to develop relevant skills in students to prepare them for leadership positions after graduation as they push boundaries and explore uncharted territory with seemingly limitless potential.

With COVID-19 universities and colleges have shifted to remote learning, and we are now seeing the same trend with high schools. However, many community colleges are not keeping up with technological advancements and are now tested by COVID-19. With remote learning, students have access to education all over the globe; this opens a new competitive sphere for higher education. The next round of students will not feel limited by location and will have access to professors around the world via video chat, cloud calling, document sharing and other communication tools.

There are downsides to remote learning in terms of ethics.

Remote learning and testing raises a question about integrity for students. Now it is possible to take a test from the comfort of your own home, and receive an A grade without showing up to school or class. Online exam integrity is challenged and new technologies are being developed to combat this change in the way we learn.

This change in education poses a problem for students and faculty alike, but there are ways to combat it with new technologies that can keep exams secure. These innovations have been on the rise as online courses grew increasingly popular over the years; now they’re being applied to testing by making exam questions more difficult to steal or share and developing an algorithm-based grading system that gives teachers data about where their student is struggling so they can tailor lessons accordingly.

Remote learning has sparked debate among educators everywhere, not only because of how it affects integrity when tests are taken online, but also because many who teach at traditional schools worry that remote teaching will hurt enrollment numbers or cause students to lose opportunities to socialize with their peers. 

Now, society is turning their eyes to researchers to provide answers and solutions to COVID-19. Funding related to the pandemic may create a competitive edge against other schools, but it’s uncertain whether we’ll see this effect. Advances at universities related to COVID-19 include new mental health treatments as well as treatments for other medical conditions stemming from cases of COVID-19.

Researchers are looked to for guidance. 

Aristotle and Burke (1929) both explain that ethos is the appeal to character. It’s not just about telling a story but also trusting your audience to read between the lines and project their own beliefs onto what you are saying in order for them to be persuaded by it. This means when writing or speaking there is an assumption that people have certain shared values with us – something we can appeal to. In higher education this might mean creating content which resonates academically as well as contributes to the common good.

Universities and colleges publish research that can lead to new discoveries in science which can be used for economic benefit such as creating new products or making improvements on existing ones and generate revenue through their endowments, donations from alumni, or other sources of fundraising. They may even invent things themselves, but these inventions would still need funding before they could go into production, so they wouldn’t always be a financial success.

Researchers may be funded by government sources when publishing studies, but companies can also fund studies. This can lead to biased reporting with significant economic gain on the horizon for researchers. With monetary incentives, research integrity can be questioned. It is no secret that results can be skewed within certain margins to tilt results in a desired direction.

COVID-19 has also added a new challenge for researchers in terms of ethical testing. The challenges that come with COVID-19 research are the ethical implications of human experimentation and moral dilemmas in public health decisions. In dire situations sometimes decisions with ethical implications are made.

The FDA, the NIH and CDC have all said that this vaccine is safe for use. The COVID-19 vaccine has been tested with “thousands of patients in clinical trials,” according to a post by the FDA on its website. Dr. Anne Schuchat from the Centers for Disease Control also emphasized how extensively this vaccine was researched before being approved: “It’s important to note that these vaccines are not live viruses so you can’t get it even if you were vaccinated.”

But some are raising questions about whether or not safety standards may have been compromised because there’s no evidence showing just how long people who’ve received injections will be protected against contracting COVID-19 once exposed. 

Researchers, even at the university level, need to be careful as they consider how best to conduct experiments on people while still maintaining scientific integrity and respect for patient autonomy, which can easily go hand-in-hand or conflict depending on the circumstances.