Michael Hoben ’61 believes that ethical decision-making is at the root of keeping a nation great. The essence of practical moral decision-making, when faced with choices such as good versus evil, virtue against vice and justice over crime, should be at the core of a steadfast society.
“Ethics is more than a philosophical concept to guide human behavior,” said Hoben, who earned his Lehigh bachelor of arts degree in finance. “A resolute and continual adherence to ethical behavior strengthens our society. Its deterioration leads to trouble. I think, as a great nation, we have to be trustworthy and ethical in the way we deal with each other.”
Hoben, with the help of some others in the Class of 1961, is attempting to make sure students have access to ethical programs at Lehigh. As part of the larger 50th reunion campaign, the class established an endowed fund for the teaching of ethical decisionmaking. The fund sponsors campus activities that present philosophical concepts to help guide human behavior. Hoben’s Lehigh freshman roommate, Peter Hagerman ’61, class President Paul Smith ’61 and Chair of the 50th Reunion Fund campaign Joseph King ’61 were integral in fundraising for the campaign.
“We thought, ‘What kind of gift would be important to the class, the university and the country?’” said Hoben, retired chairman and CEO of Benefit Capital Management Corporation. “You get students who are so focused on their careers and the decisions they will be making that they may overlook the ethical content. By doing so, it could lead to fraud or even worse. We want to help prevent that by having them think about the ethical aspect in every important decision they are making.” Donald Hall, Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said it is imperative for students to have access to ethical thought-building platforms before they enter the working world. Even though current Lehigh courses study morality issues, Hall said, “We will consider any number of ways to expose students to ethical thinking.”
Maximizing student involvement is a priority for Hoben, Hagerman and Smith, who are members of the Ethics Endowment Advisory Fund Committee. For three years, the endowment sponsored a speaker series on ethics that brought nine leading ethics educators to speak to the campus community. Topics included global business ethics, protection of personal privacy and the biotechnological restructuring of life.
Another program initiative was the first annual undergraduate ethics symposium held on campus in April. The daylong event was student-planned and included 14 undergraduates presenting projects that examined ethical quandaries in their fields, at Lehigh or in society. Prizes were awarded to top presenters. Journalism major Kelsey Leck ’16, who grew up locally, was a symposium presenter and posed the question, “Is the Sands Casino a positive or negative influence on Bethlehem?” She said about her experience, “I feel so grateful for having the opportunity to present and improve not only my ethical reasoning, but also my public speaking skills. Being able to think critically, make ethical decisions and communicate those conclusions to others are such valuable life skills that I’m happy to have developed further at Lehigh.”
Robin Dillon, the William Wilson Selfridge Professor of Philosophy and department chair, helped organize the symposium with Candice Travis ’14 and Brandyn Bok ’15. Dillon said the aim was to facilitate student reflection on ethical issues and to inspire that kind of thinking as a daily consideration. Symposium topics varied widely and included “The Ethics of Space Exploration and Colonization,” “Athletics Before Academics” and “Zoos and Animals in Captivity.”
Building Moral Fiber
Not only is having moral character very important to Hoben, but he believes that the ethical lapse of judgment that he is seeing in today’s society “can lead to a sense of lawlessness across the country.” He is concerned about the lack of ethical training that younger generations are receiving, whether at home or at school.
Hoben reflected that his own life was full of learning experiences that helped guide him when making tough decisions. Raised in Connecticut by hard-working parents, he was taught to work for what he wanted and learned by example to make honorable choices. He was a newspaper boy at age 10 and saved enough money to pay for the things he wanted, such as a racing bicycle. More importantly, he saved enough money from his paper route to pay for his freshman year at Lehigh.
He praises his undergraduate education for providing him with a good academic groundwork. It taught him perseverance through many tough classes and helped enhance his social skills through activities that included intercollegiate track, the boxing club and serving as secretary of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity and as chairman of the Interfraternity Council judiciary committee.
Fulfilling his selective service duty after graduation, Hoben served four years in the Air Force as a first lieutenant. Stationed in Arizona, he attended graduate school at night and earned a Master of Science degree in economics at Arizona State University.
“The really great benefit of the military is that it gives young people significant responsibility in their early 20s and engenders a sense of leadership,” he said.
After the Air Force, Hoben began a successful investment career that lasted for more than three decades. During that time, he was a senior executive with T. Rowe Price, Exxon and Union Carbide, where he was responsible for the management of large pension funds. These funds were invested in a wide variety of assets, including equities, fixed income, venture capital, real estate and options.
Hoben said that in an industry where you are dealing almost exclusively with money, temptation lends to self-serving behavior or even fraud.
“There is always the possibility of malefactors when money is involved. It is a real problem. Those bad decisions can destroy firms and people,” he said, restating the need for Lehigh students to receive ethical exposure no matter what their field. “Strong ethics leads to a trust between people. That is vital in every career.”