Business Ethics and the Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Recent news of a New York cabbie tracking down a passenger to return a forgotten bag of diamond rings is a story that speaks to human honesty. It could find a place in ethics courses, and maybe it will - business schools are busily pushing ethics training.

A recent study of the world's top 50 graduate business schools shows a fivefold increase in the number of ethics courses over the past two decades. And the subject is seen as so important that just over half of the schools in the survey have made ethics study a graduation requirement. (The survey was sponsored by the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., and the Ethics Resource Center in Washington.)

Student interest is partly driving the trend. But so are deans who see this training as a way to distinguish their schools (now that's a smart business model: right behavior equals competitive advantage). Meanwhile, these deans are broadening the definition of ethics beyond individual decisionmaking to include a corporation's social, economic, and environmental responsibilities.

Especially hot right now: programs in "sustainable" development. With climate change and other green issues suddenly on the radar screen, some employers are eager for B-school grads who can help soften their environmental impact.

Ethics courses enjoyed a campus spurt in the '80s in the wake of Watergate and as the media focused on the ill-gotten gains of high- flying individuals such as junk-bond trader Michael Milken, who pled guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

"Ethics in business schools was formerly addressed as 'don't lie, don't cheat, and don't steal,' " commented survey respondent Steve Jones, dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. …