Ethics in Business: Business Schools React to the Debate |

Ethics in Business: Business Schools React to the Debate

By QS Contributor

Updated September 30, 2014 Updated September 30, 2014 looks at the debate about ethics in business and how business schools are responding by fostering ethical behaviour in their students. 

While the world is gripped by a global recession, compared by some to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, people look to the leaders of corporate America and abroad for answers. These leaders seem to answer with their hands outstretched for public funds in order to triage their hemorrhaging companies as the public rightfully questions their judgment. Corporate powerhouses such as Merrill Lynch, AIG, Bear Sterns and the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. have collapsed from within due to a combination of overleveraging, excessive rewards for short-term growth and most importantly bad decision-making.

Schemers of Wall Street and Bay Street alike such as the incarcerated Bernard Madoff have created huge economic bubbles that burst, leaving thousands devastated. How could MBA graduates like Richard Fuld and other top tier executives let this happen? The public now holds them responsible and some of those concerned are looking to the education of these shamed leaders for answers.

“People have a right to question where these guys are coming from. And business schools have a responsibility to the next generation,” says Richard Powers, Director of MBA Programs at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Fortunately, numerous schools have taken a proactive approach to address these concerns, focused on the importance of fostering ethical behavior.

Five years ago the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business was at the leading edge of ethics awareness. They started a graduation pledge. The pledge is taken in a ceremony in which a silver ring is passed from one alumnus to another. Each ring carries a unique serial number and with it the student enters a professional brotherhood built on the foundation of knowledge and ethics. “We are essentially saying to our graduates that this is the profession you’re in and like any profession you should have a code of ethics that you live and die by,” says Glenn Rowe Director of the Executive MBA Program for Ivey.

Other schools have developed comprehensive curricula that evolve around correct ethical behavior and the appropriate actions and reactions. The George Washington University School of Business recently claimed to have revolutionized the MBA program with a program built on the pillars of theories and practical applications of ethical leadership, corporate responsibility and globalization. These models and others like them are proving to be quite effective in fostering the idea of ethical judgment not just in the university atmosphere but also more importantly in the workforce.

The median age of an MBA student is 29. So is it even possible to curb unethical behavior with curriculum? “Yes, to an extent, it is. Exposing students to ethical models and questions, deliberating over ethical dilemmas and interacting with faculty and practitioners who choose to model ethical leadership can raise a student’s ethical I.Q.,” proposes Dr. Mitchell J. Neubert, Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

“Ethical awareness comes through the exposure not only to curriculum but also through their peers. Many of the students in our MBA programs are working, have years of distinguished experience or hold C-level executive positions. These students have valuable insight into proper ethical behavior because they have worked through challenging situations. We try to nurture a fluid culture of sharing by utilizing online collaborative tools to connect students,” says Jane Gravill, President of Lansbridge University.

The leaders of tomorrow will be exposed to the type of large-scale scandals and corporate collapses that continue to set records for their avoidable financial loss. In the face of this they will require an education that not only relies on a network of responsible managers to model their behavior after but the wisdom to make independent decisions when faced with a situation that places an angel and a devil on their shoulders.

Stephen works for Lansbridge University in Canada and is an expert in the emerging trends of the MBA industry. He holds a particular interest in the use of the Internet to act as a conduit to deliver education.

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in September 2014

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