Teaching Ethics

Topics: Business school, Management, Master of Business Administration Pages: 5 (1874 words) Published: March 26, 2013
School for scandal? Business schools turn their attention to ethics education This case examines the role of the business school in encouraging corruption in business, and looks at the potential impacts that business ethics training might have on students. It offers the opportunity to explore the significance of the individual and their education and experience for understanding ethical decision-making. It also provides a context for investigating the specific role, purpose, and impact of business ethics courses on business behaviour. When it turns out that the key figures in some of the most infamous cases of fraud and corruption in business are alumni from leading business schools, it is perhaps not surprising that the business schools themselves might come in for some criticism. After all, if people like Andrew Fastow, the convicted chief financial officer at Enron, or his boss Jeffrey Skilling, could have got MBAs from two of America’s premier business schools (Northwestern and Harvard, respectively) and , then it is inevitable that questions will be raised about what kinds of principles and practices business school students are being taught. In the last few years, a number of business gurus and commentators have publicly condemned business schools in general, and MBA programmes in particular, for their perpetuation of ‘misguided’ amoral theories and techniques, and the lack of attention to ethics in the curriculum. For example, Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian management expert has famously condemned the MBA model, suggesting that it ‘trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences’, whilst Sumantra Ghoshal, the late London Business School professor has argued that the ‘worst excesses of recent management practices have their roots in a set of ideas that have emerged from business-school academics over the last 30 years.’ Ghoshal’s ire is directed to typical theories taught at business schools such as agency theory and Porter’s ‘5 forces’ model, which he claims perpetuate an idea that everyone is self-interested, managers cannot be trusted, business is a zero-sum game, and shareholder value is the only legitimate aim of business. The perpetuation of such assumptions, he suggests, leaves business school students devoid of any sense of moral responsibility. These criticisms have received a lot of attention in academic debates, but have also been readily recounted in the media and the business community. For instance The Economist ran a 2005 article headlined ‘Business schools stand accused of being responsible for much that is wrong with corporate management today’ which brought the arguments from Ghoshal, Mintzberg, and others to a wider audience – albeit in a context where the magazine rather predictably mounted a strong defence. After all, as The Economist argued, there are plenty of examples of corporate crooks who have not had a business school education, so there are clearly other aspects to consider too. Nevertheless, whatever else the debate has done, it has certainly helped refocus the attention of business schools on their curricula, and especially on the provision of courses on ethics and social responsibility. At one level, this debate is simply about whether more business schools should be encouraged to introduce such courses into the curriculum. Whilst some schools have long included ethics in their curricula, others have tended to focus more on areas such as strategy, innovation, marketing and finance, whilst others have even dropped ethics courses due to low enrolments or political manoeuvring by sceptical colleagues. As one Wall Street Journal article put it, ‘MBA students and professors bristle at ethics requirements. Some faculty members resent being forced to squeeze ethics lessons into an already jam-packed syllabus, while students grumble that ethics classes tend to be preachy and philosophical.’ In this context, the evidence on the scale of ethics teaching is revealing. A recent...
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