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Retired Marine Colonel Stresses Integrity at State Farm Ethics Lecture Series

More than 2,000 College of Business Administration students attended the fall State Farm Ethics Lecture Series to hear Col. Arthur J. Athens, U.S. Marine Corps speak about the importance of integrity in one’s life at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. Athens, director of the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, told students he puts a premium on people who maintain a consistent self in all situations.

“Integrity is the consistent alignment of our values, words and actions,” Athens said. “We will be the same whether we’re in class, out on the athletic field, out on Saturday night, on the internet or at home. We’ll be the same person. A lot of people struggle with that, and they split into different kinds of people in different kinds of settings. That’s not integrity.”

He punctuated his speech with stories of business leaders, coaches and politicians who had the courage to make tough decisions in hard times when the results would not always be in their favor.

Athens used two college football games to demonstrate integrity. In both games, one of the teams won the game and ultimately a national championship on an officiating error. In the first instance in 1940, Cornell's head coach decided to forfeit the game and championship when he discovered they had been awarded an extra down on their final possession. When the same thing happened to Colorado against Missouri 50 years later, their coach chose not to forfeit the game.

Arthur Athens

Retired Col. Arthur Athens talks to students about integrity

“There’s integrity in one case and there’s someone who is challenged by doing what is right in the moment in the other. We need more stories about what integrity looks like,because when we’re faced with those situations, we need those stories to come through in our mind. It’s never easy and it’s never convenient. If we’re going to live lives where we influence people and make a difference wherever we go, we have to maintain our integrity – being whole, complete and undivided,” he said.

Todd Herridge, auto claims section manager at State Farm Insurance, introduced Athens, and Donde Plowman, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Dean of the College of Business Administration, thanked State Farm for their commitment to the CBA business ethics program, which began in 1998 and  is integrated into more than 90 percent of business courses.

A luncheon featuring Athens was also held in conjunction with the Lied presentation at the UNL Wick Alumni Center. Athens spoke to students and faculty about the aspect of humility in leadership.

“I see humility as one of the most important aspects of effective leadership. Only when the person in charge is able to remember the mission of the team or the organization can they achieve true success,” he said.

Athens, who retired from the Marines Corps in 2008 with over 30 years of combined active and reserve service, served as a White House Fellow under President Ronald Reagan, was special assistant to the NASA Administrator following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, and has been active as a volunteer lacrosse coach at the high school and collegiate levels including being named High School Coach of the Year by the Washington Post.

The Lied event was kicked off by members of the CBA Student Ethics Board who stressed the importance of students signing the online ethics scroll where students can endorse the beliefs and ethical conduct outlined in the code. Students who have not signed their name can do so by visiting
Published: November 5, 2014