- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

University of Maryland MBA students are marching off to the business world armed with a powerful weapon: fear.
A mandatory visit to a federal prison last semester helped put into focus the almost-daily reports of corporate fraud and accounting misstatements since energy giant Enron Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Dec. 2.
"It was a real eye-opener for a lot of students," said graduate Marlene McNamee, who visited the federal prison in Cumberland in May.
Miss McNamee will start a job in August in institutional equity sales for U.S. Bancorp in New York City. She said what she learned from the visit with white-collar criminals, coupled with the rest of the ethics training she received before graduation, will be indispensable.
She said the requirement helped the students who had been discussing the fallout from corporate scandals during the past several months see the consequences of poor choices.
"These people were making a ton of money," she said. "And then they were pretty much just chopped off at the knees."
All full-time students in the master's of business administration program at Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business must visit the federal prison as part of the school's non-credit ethics training.
During the tour, which some faculty call "Scared Straight for MBA Students," white-collar criminals tell the students about the bad decisions that have led them to prison. And the students listen.
It would become more pressing for corporate leaders to make more ethical decisions if the guidelines for punishing corporate misbehavior set out by President Bush last Tuesday are adopted.
Mr. Bush called for longer prison time for those convicted of criminal fraud and proposed doubling to 10 years the maximum federal prison sentence for mail and wire fraud.
Miss McNamee said she worries about the difficulty of balancing ethics with the bottom line, but she has made a choice to take the high road.
"It was something I had to choose very early on in my career," she said. "But it always worked out for me, less so financially than being able to sleep at night."
In the long run, the best decisions are the ethical ones, she said.
"It's very difficult to maintain a long-term prospectus," she said. "In the long run, it will pay off."
Because most of the MBA students at Maryland are in their late 20s or early 30s, many of them have more at risk if they end up in prison.
"Family and all that stuff becomes a lot more important," Miss McNamee said.
One prisoner told the story of his daughter's 10th birthday, which was held on prison grounds. Another told the students that his divorce papers had just arrived that day, she said.
The first student trip to the prison was in 1996.
Mr. Loeb said the faculty has no intention of scaring the students, only of making them realize where bad decisions can lead.
"It's another way to try to get them to think critically, to weigh the consequences of future decisions," he said.
Bill Shepherd, a fellow at the Center for Executive Education at Maryland's business school, said the visit is a powerful deterrent.
"That's one of the reasons they make prisons so ugly," he said.
Mr. Shepherd said he believes Maryland's MBA program is the only one in the country with such a requirement.
"I think schools would be wise to use this as a feature not just for those headed to Wall Street, but those who are headed to businesses on Main Street as well," said Mr. Shepherd, a former Miami prosecutor.

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