In the not-so-distant past, business news was seldom carried on the front page. This has changed dramatically in recent years, with one corporate scandal after another making headlines. The amounts of money involved are staggering, and the effect on stock markets and pension accounts has been felt by many American investors.
The impact of these crimes is wide ranging. Recent federal laws demand a much greater level of business accountability in financial reporting, and appropriately so. And there has been a change in public attitudes towards business, captured in a recent movie review in Entertainment Weekly: “The Perfect Score. A movie about high school students trying to steal SAT answers. So they can go to business school and learn how to steal millions.”
As a business educator, I find it bewildering to see business education included among the presumed rotten apples. Still, we do not want to dodge questions about ethics and business education; they are valid and challenge our assumptions about the effectiveness of what we are doing to prepare our graduates for business careers.
“ETHICS” IN BUSINESS SCHOOLS
The core problem is that business schools tend to teach business ethics as a set of rules—typically, legal rules. Students too often conclude that it is okay to walk the boundary of the law as long as they do not stumble into illegal behavior. This is the opposite of what we want our students to learn because the boundaries of ethical behavior are typically crossed well before the behavior is illegal.
There has to be a better way.
David Eccles School of Business (DESB) faculty started struggling with the question of teaching business ethics about 14 years ago. As we better understood the failure of traditional approaches to preparing people for ethical leadership, it became clear that two issues needed to be addressed:
The DESB did something extraordinary 12 years ago, replacing “Introductory Business” with “Foundations of Business Thought,” a course examining personal values and business practices. DESB students begin their studies with questions about the responsibilities of business to the community, the moral obligations of leadership, and market economy values. More than 2,000 students a year take the class, and only 60 percent are business majors.
ETHICS AND VALUES IN LEADERSHIP
We are proud that our faculty are at the forefront of asking such questions, looking for answers, and sharing what they learn with our students.
—Jack Brittain is dean of the David Eccles School of Business.