Teaching Business Ethics after the Financial Meltdown: Is It Time for Ethics with a Sermon?

By Cavaliere, Frank J.; Mulvaney, Toni P. et al. | Education, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Teaching Business Ethics after the Financial Meltdown: Is It Time for Ethics with a Sermon?


Cavaliere, Frank J., Mulvaney, Toni P., Swerdlow, Marleen R., Education


Business Schools Have Been Teaching Ethics

The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for many years has sought to incorporate ethics education into the business curriculum. Critics complain that business schools focus too much teaching effort on maximizing shareholder value and too little on the ethical and social aspects of business leadership. (Holland, 2009) Various scandals, such as the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s, and the Enron, WorldCom, Tyco scandals of the early 2000s, cast a spotlight on ethical deficiencies in the business community. Most business texts that are written with an eye on AACSB accreditation standards (AACSB, 2007) try to incorporate ethics throughout the course material. The Business Law curriculum, more so than most others, contains a significant amount of material that relates to ethics. Many Business Law and Legal Environment of Business texts have at least one entire chapter devoted to the topic of Ethics and the Law (Beatty & Samuelson, 2008; Blackburn, Klayman, & Malin, 1994; Cameron & Scaletta, 1993; Cheeseman, 2009; Jennings, 1994; Kubasek, Brennan, & Browne, 2009; Mann & Roberts, 2008; McGuire, 1989), and many also incorporate ethics throughout the text (Cheeseman, 2009; Meiners, Ringleb, & Edwards 2009). Many Business and Society texts can have as many as six chapters devoted to the topics of Social Responsibility and Business Ethics, with ethics content running throughout all chapters of the book (Baron, 2000; Carroll & Buchholtz, 2003; Steiner & Steiner, 2002). In the aftermath of Enron and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, states such as Texas now require accounting majors to take a separate ethics course. Given the magnitude of the current ethics-based crisis, a reinvigorated emphasis on business ethics from governmental and accreditation sources is probably in the not so distant future (Cavaliere, Mulvaney, & Swerdlow, 2009).

Teaching Ethics in the aftermath of the current financial crisis is an enormous opportunity and societal obligation for business educators to train this generation to do better than the last generation. A Business Week survey shows that fifty-six percent (56%) of all Masters in Business Administration students in America admit to cheating while they are earning their degree, (Jackson, 2009) which causes concern about how they will behave in business? According to Ira Jackson, Dean of the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, the one thousand business schools in the United States have been teaching the wrong thing, or, at least allowing graduates to go out and do the wrong thing. Dean Jackson urges business educators to "return to first principles and teach this next generation to 1) do no harm; 2) act ethically; and, 3) think about the relationship of business to society--yes, a focus on profitability and shareholders, but, sustainable growth and a purpose beyond profitability." (Jackson, 2009) In light of the current global economic crisis, a crisis, which in the minds of many, is primarily based on lapses of ethics, it is important to anticipate new directions ethics education may take. One thing is certain: the path we have been on has not taken us where we wanted to go (Cavaliere et al, 2009).

Time to Reconsider Business Ethics Teaching and Teachers

The AACSB expects that "ethical issues" be included in the curricula of colleges of business administration. However, the AACSB does not mandate how this is to be done. This lack of guidance has resulted in a number of approaches that attempt to address ethical issues in the curricula. These innovations can generally be classified into three categories.

First, there is the single ethics course approach, second, is the ethics case study approach, and third, is the ethics across the business curriculum approach. The first category is not widespread. The second category, case study, is a little more popular. …

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