A Moral Imperative-Overcoming Barriers to Establishing an MBA Infused with Ethics

By Castiglia, Beth; Nunez, Enrique | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, July 2010 | Go to article overview

A Moral Imperative-Overcoming Barriers to Establishing an MBA Infused with Ethics


Castiglia, Beth, Nunez, Enrique, Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


INTRODUCTION

Business schools have been trying for decades to educate ethical managers. The results of their efforts, however, often fall short of their hopes. MBA students, despite their exposure to business ethics during graduate school, are still often perceived as unethical win-at any-cost corporate climbers. Critics of MBA programs argue that not only do most business schools neglect ethics in their curriculum, but they actually encourage a focus on short-term profits and the compulsion of graduates to go to any lengths to increase shareholder profits (Alsop, 2006; Giacalone and Thompson, 2006). In the post-Enron world, hiring businesses are questioning the values of these graduates, and recognize that their focus on profit above all else can lead to serious damage to corporate reputations (Roy and Roy, 2004). Critics contend that business schools can and must do more in bringing about positive ethical change (Adler, 2002). Business schools have responded to these demands for more ethical graduates by either adding ethics courses to their curriculum or attempting to integrate ethics throughout their curriculum. These often-expensive experiments, however, have proven challenging for institutions that struggle with already-crowded curriculum and faculty who are untrained or unwilling to change their approaches (Piper, 1993).

The purpose of this paper is to describe a success story: the development of an MBA program in a small Catholic college which somehow emerged naturally infused with values. The program's title (Innovation and Entrepreneurship) does not promote or even hint at its value-laden nature. The faculty, when developing the program, were not specifically instructed to focus on ethics in constructing their syllabi. The students were not informed upon entering the program that they were going to be exposed to ethics in all of their courses. Nevertheless, when surveyed, the faculty that developed the program all claimed that each of the courses they developed (including Accounting and Quantitative Analysis) have significant ethical components and over 70% of the students currently enrolled in the program claimed that there was a significant ethics component in every course they have taken in the MBA program. How did this happen? Why did Felician College, a small, Catholic, Franciscan college with an even smaller business division, succeed in developing an ethics-laden program that other much-larger and better funded colleges might aspire toward?

THE IMPORTANCE AND DIFFICULTY OF INCORPORATING ETHICS INTO MBA PROGRAMS

Business is often perceived as a game. The game analogy, though, can lead to some unpleasant ramifications. Games are won or lost. Games have limited and prescribed rules. Certain behaviors are tolerable in playing a game that might, in other social contexts, be unacceptable (Parks, 1993). And, sadly, the goal of the person engaged in the game is often to win at any cost. Nobody likes a loser. The focus is narrow and the stakes are high (Poytner, 1996).

Combine the game-like nature of business with the culture of self-interest and individualism that is inherent in our United States economic system and you have the recipe for unethical behavior. In reality, business school students may be at a greater risk of ethical lapses than other professional school students. Research has found that while business school students cheat at similar levels to students in other professional schools, their attitudes toward cheating are more permissive than the attitudes of their contemporaries (Klein, Levenburg, McKendall, and Mothersell, 2007). It could be hypothesized that the students attracted to business and seeking an MBA are more predisposed to this focus on self-interest, especially in terms of money-making (Parks, 1993). They like the game, and they want to win it. They enter MBA programs to equip themselves with the tools they need to compete.

Traditionally, MBA programs ignored this lethal combination of bright, aggressive students and a competitive, game-like business environment. …

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