Faculty Profile – Dr Scott Carson

Posted on May 19, 2011

Dr. Scott Carson

Ethics education can’t make a bad person good. But it can help to teach people what good ethical conduct involves and, importantly, how to work through ethical problems and policy formation. Responsible leadership has many facets. Who are we responsible too? And for what are we responsible? How should we conduct ourselves if we are to be responsible leaders? The answer to that question, in my view, is that we should act with integrity.”

Scott Carson, Professor of Strategy and Organization, is a passionate advocate for business ethics and responsible leadership. “Business people should be open, honest, fair-minded and respectful of others,” he believes. Carson was drawn towards business ethics from a strong academic career – he has a rich background in education with degrees in philosophy, education, and business. In his perspective, having had the chance become involved in all three fields first-hand gave him “the opportunity to see how ethical theory and practice come together.”

Currently, Carson takes part in a project involving a small town called Atikokan in Ontario. “The Ontario government had recently enacted environmental legislation that called for the elimination of all coal-fired power generation in Ontario,” Carson explains. “This meant that five power generators around the province would be forced to close. Unfortunately, the power plant was the last major employer in Atikokan. If it closed, so might the town!” In the eye of the storm, the Ontario government offered Atikokan $4 million in funds to seek alternative methods of producing economic opportunities – specifically, using wood-waste from nearby forests to manufacture biomass pellets that would replace coal in the power generator. Carson elaborates, “My role in the project was to examine the community strategic planning process in Atikokan. My research assistant, Erica Young a 4th year Commerce student, and I travelled to Atikokan to meet with municipal officials and to conduct interviews of members of different parts of the community.” During the research, Carson became intrigued by the ethical problem at hand – “What fascinated me was a paradox. On one hand, the provincial government had passed progressive environmental legislation for which there was a strong ethical grounding based on reducing harm to future generations. On the other hand, the legislation had the potential to devastate the town of Atikokan! What “responsible leadership” should the government demonstrate?”

His second project in progress concerns the idea of “for-profit” universities: universities owned by corporations that treat students as customers. Carson’s focus is to explore the commercial motivation for corporate owners and how it affects the quality of the degree due to “fraudulent misrepresentation” of education. An example is the University of Pheonix in Arizona, where over 300,000 students are registered in degree programs. “Pheonix is owned by Apollo Group, Inc. a stock exchange listed corporation.” In evaluating the legitimacy of these universities, Carson states, “Rather than seeing these institutions as trying to portray themselves as conventional universities like Queen’s, [my approach has been to] look at the for-profits the way they see themselves. They are businesses – businesses that happen to be “selling” educational services in the form of university level programs. They may not have art galleries, football teams and scientific research labs, but they have government approval to offer degrees. So the problem I am addressing is whether these “businesses” can be adequately controlled by legislation, regulations and other forms of oversight.” Carson concluded that legislation and regulation can sufficiently protect the public from potential fraud – the more specific and comprehensive the guidelines, the stronger protection it entails.

To learn more about Scott Carson’s research and interests, visit his faculty profile on QSB’s website:

Scott Carson wraps up with a thought, “In the wake of so many corporate scandals in recent years, calls from governments have been added, especially in the sphere of corporate governance.  In QSB you see that significant improvements have been made over the years in several ways.  There are courses in ethics and sustainability in the B.Comm program, corporate social responsibility in the MBA programs and an ethics course has been added in the PhD program.  The Centre for Responsible Leadership has grown significantly in its activities and influence.”