School among emerging group emphasizing ethics education in business programs
On February 7, the Wall Street Journal explored a growing trend among business schools: many are re-examining how they teach ethics. Some schools are asking if an ‘A’ in ethics has any value, while others, including Boston University School of Management, are integrating ethics into their programs.
Excerpts from “Does an ‘A’ in Ethics Have Any Value?” in the Wall Street Journal:
Business-school professors are making a morality play.
Four years after the scandals of the financial crisis prompted deans and faculty to re-examine how they teach ethics, some academics say they still haven’t gotten it right.
“Business schools have been giving students some education in ethics for at least the past 25 or 30 years, and we still have these problems,” such as irresponsibly risky bets or manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, says John Delaney, dean of University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration and Katz Graduate School of Business.
But some efforts are at risk of stalling at the discussion stage, since teaching business ethics faces roadblocks from faculty and recruiters alike. Some professors see ethics as separate from their own subjects, such as accounting or marketing, and companies have their own training programs for new hires.
A strong ethics education can help counteract a narrowing worldview that often accompanies a student’s progression through business school, supporters in academia say. Surveys conducted by the Aspen Institute, a think tank, show that about 60% of new M.B.A. students view maximizing shareholder value as the primary responsibility of a company; that number rises to 69% by the time they reach the program’s midpoint.
Though maximizing shareholder returns isn’t a bad goal in itself, focusing on that at the expense of customer satisfaction, employee well-being or environmental considerations can be dangerous.
Some schools are experimenting with a more integrated approach. This fall, Boston University’s School of Management is introducing a required ethics course for freshman business students, and is also tasking instructors in other business classes to incorporate ethics into their lessons. It may also overhaul a senior seminar to reinforce ethics topics.
“We need to hit the students hard when they first get here, remind them of these principles throughout their core classes, and hit them once again before they leave,” says Kabrina Chang, an assistant professor at Boston University’s business school, who is coordinating the new freshman class.
Students likely know right from wrong, so rather than, say, discussing whether a student would turn in a roommate caught stealing, Ms. Chang says she’ll lead a debate on how or if a student might maintain a relationship with the thief.
Students may find the roommate-thief scenario more relevant than a re-examination of recent Ponzi schemes, but many remain skeptical of how such discussions apply to real life.