Teaching Business Ethics: The Attitudes of Business Deans around the World

By Curry, Tilden J.; Thach, Sharon V. | The Journal of Developing Areas, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Business Ethics: The Attitudes of Business Deans around the World


Curry, Tilden J., Thach, Sharon V., The Journal of Developing Areas


EXISTING RESEARCH AND BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Calls for business schools to teach ethics as a solution to recurrent scandals have recurred since the 1950s. Each newsworthy lapse is blamed on lack of ethics in business as a profession (although curiously, that seldom is the case in public administration, politics, law, religion, or other professions).

There is very little consensus among those who teach business ethics on the following issues: the content, the approach, the effectiveness, and the curricular design for delivery (Sims and Felton 2006). Thus, while there are calls for more and better training in ethics and a serious emphasis on ethics in the accreditation standards, there seems to be little information available on what actually existing practices are and what outcomes result, to assist schools in designing more effective ethics training. Indeed, the inspiration for the pilot study this paper reports resulted from an attempt to survey existing practice and results to improve our own business school's instruction in this field. Conferences such as this and the few journals specifically dedicated to business ethics are important in exploring a relatively underdeveloped application field, but it is still surprising to find that very little explicit information exists on what the current practices are. There are a number of very interesting proposals and reports on specific schools/instructors, but these give little sense of what is broadly occurring in business schools (Sims and Brinkman 2003, Ritter 2006, McWilliams 2006).

There are several different content areas which are often included under discussions of business ethics: legal issues, social responsibility, personal ethics, and organizational ethics. The inclusion, emphasis and treatment of each of these areas prescriptively varies in the literature (Lowrie 2004, Moore 2005, Sims and Felton 2006); this is also reflected in the highly varied syllabi available (see AACSB Ethics Resource Center, for example) and in the texts sold by major publishers (they range from the almost purely Philosophy based to casebooks of current issues). It has been noted, as well, that European schools are probably more likely to think of business ethics in the context of social responsibility while North American schools think of it as a more individual/corporate set of moral issues (Cowton and Cummings 2003, Crane and Matton 2004. Observers have suggested also that the entire conception of business ethics is closely tied to history and culture, with correspondingly little international consensus on the topic (Cowton and Cummins 2003, Crane and Matten 2004, Enderle 1999). Several groups are providing shared teaching and research (CEMS, AACSB, Centers for Business Ethics at schools such as Bentley, St. Thomas, Duquesne) to help generate better dialogue. However, thus far, little of any depth has been generated with respect to overall agreement on what Felton and Sims (2006) called the four essential questions: 1) What are the objectives or targeted learning outcomes of the course? (2) What kind of learning environment should be created? (3) What learning processes need to be employed to achieve the goals? (4) What are the roles of the participants in the learning experience? (p 297).

Related to this is the relative paucity of in-depth cases and problems developed for teaching. While there are an increasing number of cases and problems, many based on current events, the knottier ethical issues tend to be elided in favor of legal issues or general ideological approaches to social action. The "Bermuda Triangle" of regulation, so loved by corporate law firms (lots of billable hours) is one area where practice requires establishing priorities and following the latest interpretations; seldom can all the regulations be followed as they are often contradictory. Differences in laws, codes, and justice systems in an increasingly global business world also results quandaries for firms and their managers.

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