Can a Business Ethics Course Affect Academic Dishonesty?

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INTRODUCTION

Academic dishonesty is regarded as unfair and unethical by most academicians and those students who do not engage in it. In the short term, academicians can be frustrated and honest students can legitimately feel that they are at a disadvantage as a result of academic dishonesty.

Academicians are concerned with the problem of academic dishonesty and the rate at which it is increasing (Park, 2003; Pullin et al., 2000; Williams & Hosek, 2003). Brown and McInerney (2008) found that there were significant differences between 1999 and 2006 for seven of the 16 unethical behaviors examined in their study. All seven differences were increases, with a mean increase of 19.2%. Furthermore, business students are consistently ranked as students most likely to cheat, possibly due to the adoption of a "bottom line" mentality that the ends (better grades) justifies the means (cheating) (Riley, 2004). Choong and Brown (2007) state that this phenomenon is just one component of a broader, "culture of cheating," that includes not only students but also school administrators and teachers who have inflated students' test scores and have manipulated statistical data. Moreover, this culture extends from dishonest practices by businesspersons and politicians to inaccurate and misleading reporting by members of the media.

Academic dishonesty or cheating may be described as "a conscious effort to use proscribed data and/or resources on exams or written work submitted for academic credit" (Sierra & Hyman, 2008, p. 51). Similarly, academic dishonesty or cheating has been defined as behavior that breaches, "the submission of work for assessment that has been produced legitimately by the student who will be awarded the grade, and which demonstrates the student's knowledge and understanding of the context or processes being assessed" (Lambert et al., 2003, p. 98). Alternatively, it "refers to any instance in which a student claims credit for the work or efforts of another without authorization or citation" (Becker et al., 2006, p. 37). Anitsal et al. (2009) identified two types of academic dishonesty, active and passive, and state that research has been largely focused on active academic dishonesty, which includes behaviors to raise one's own grade. Passive academic dishonesty includes behaviors to assist another student (Finn & Frone, 2004). Anitsal et al. (2009) concluded that both constructs are of equal importance in the intention to cheat.

Academic dishonesty involves deceptively violating rules in order to gain something of value and personal advantage (Bloodgood et al., 2008). It has been characterized as a type of fraud (Becker et al., 2006). This issue is critical for universities as it seems to mirror the growing concerns of ethical problems in the business community (Chapman et al., 2004; Kidwell et al., 2003). If professors hope to improve the ethical behavior of students as future business people, they need to first address the ethical behavior that occurs in their classroom, i.e., academic dishonesty. "What kind of expectation for ethical behavior is communicated when professors ignore cheating?" (Copeland, 2005, p. 43).

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

Many colleges and universities have incorporated ethics courses and/or courses with an ethics component into the business school curriculum. The ethics material usually focuses on ethical issues in the marketplace, often in the form of case studies. The rationale of this effort is to improve the ethical behavior of business students before they graduate and enter the workforce.

Given that students' ethics in the classroom impacts their ethics as business professionals (Brown & Choong, 2005; Klein et al., 2007), it is vital that business professors gain a clearer understanding of these issues so they can better address the problem. This study focuses on essentially two important questions that are targeted toward business schools that incorporate ethics in their programs: Can business ethics be taught (Sims, 2002)? …