The Ethical Magician
By Suzanne Buzek
Paul Fiorelli doesn’t wear a magician’s cape to his business law or finance lectures. Nor does he keep a bunny stashed in a hat in his office. Nevertheless, Fiorelli is a magician, and he regularly uses his skills in the classroom to give his students something unexpected—a visual or an image—to help them better understand a concept or idea.
“What I occasionally do is ‘hokey magic tricks,’ ” says Fiorelli, professor of business law and director of the Cintas Institute for Business Ethics. A little fun in the name of entertainment is by no means a joke for Fiorelli. He’s always had an interest in doing tricks with a purpose.
“When I was in high school and college, I was a very amateur magician, and it probably went downhill from there,” he jokes. “When my oldest daughter, Katie, now 22, was in preschool, I started picking up some tricks again just to do things for her and her friends.”
But the hobby became something more when Fiorelli decided to introduce his tricks to his classes.
“After a while I thought, ‘you know, sometimes the things I’m doing actually make a point that I’m trying to make in class,’“ he recalls. “Now, I don’t do a magic trick for the sake of doing a magic trick. My hope is that doing a trick becomes a visual placeholder for someone to hang a complicated idea, something that crystallizes the point and students get that ‘Aha’ moment.”
A fan of visual learning, Fiorelli is fearless—and shameless—in his approach. He employs anything, from hokey props to “bad” magic tricks to video clips to Jeopardy games, to make a point for his students.
“My point is not that faculty members are entertainers, but that doing something just out of the ordinary can give students a better hold on an idea,” he says.
There are times, though, when Fiorelli puts aside his tricks and lets the magic of the moment take over. His annual student trip to London is a prime example: “The ‘magic’ of London has less to do with my tricks than the beauty and culture of the city,” he says. “I leave my tricks at home and supplement my class lectures with high-level briefings from Ethics and Compliance professionals within the London legal and business communities.”
On a broad scale, Fiorelli’s use of visuals and efforts to create memorable moments extends out of the classroom to his work as director of the Cintas Institute for Business Ethics. There, he hopes to impact not just the Xavier community, but the local business community as well.
“We try to bring in interesting speakers who exemplify business ethics and I work with departments all around campus to help them be more comfortable with business ethics,” he explains. “The more faculty members who are comfortable talking about ethics or bringing it up in class, the more often they will do it; the more often they do it, the more students hear about it and think through discussions so that they are prepared to deal with issues head-on in the workplace. The hope is to help faculty think of how ethics affects their disciplines.”