Academic journal article Issues in Accounting Education

An Introduction to the Special Issue on Professionalism and Ethics in Accounting Education

Academic journal article Issues in Accounting Education

An Introduction to the Special Issue on Professionalism and Ethics in Accounting Education

Article excerpt

These are challenging times for accounting educators. Recent events on the world stage have brought to our attention the importance of ethical behavior in the practice of accounting, and therefore the importance of including ethics in accounting education. Above all, these events clearly show the need to instill in our students the importance of ethics to accountants and auditors. Nevertheless, it is apparent that ethics is not being given the prominence in the classroom that it requires. A recent study of accounting curriculum commissioned by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2003, 35) identifies that "ethics is not a consistent, integrated part of the education of most accounting students ..."

From its inception, the American Accounting Association's Professionalism and Ethics Committee has sought to advance the "cause" of ethics in accounting by developing course materials and instructors' skills and knowledge in ethics. Through its Ethics Research Symposia, it has also encouraged academic research into accounting ethics. This special issue of Issues in Accounting Education is an initiative of the Professionalism and Ethics Committee, as part of its continuing efforts in both instruction and research.

As accounting educators, we continue to upgrade our knowledge base and adapt our curriculum to include more and more technical topics. In contrast, there appears to be less emphasis accorded to understanding ethical research and less of a drive to adapt the accounting curriculum to include recent advances in ethical research. Nevertheless, as accounting educators, there has never been a better time to increase the time and effort we place on ethics in the classroom. We should not squander this opportunity. Now is the time to act, and to revise both our teaching approach and our curricula.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (2003) report admonishes accounting educators to increase opportunities to include ethics and ethical issues in the classroom. Although many accounting educators recognize the need to increase the ethicality of prospective accountants and have the desire and the interest to increase their emphasis on ethics in the classroom, they are not trained in the academic disciplines underlying ethics research. Accounting educators who are unfamiliar with ethics research may not even be certain that ethics can be taught, where to find resources to develop their curriculum, or of which approaches may be most effective in developing ethical reasoning in their students. This special issue represents an attempt to partially fill this void.

The word "ethics" may be defined in many ways. For present purposes, it is defined as the field of inquiry that concerns the actions of people, in situations where these actions have effects on the welfare of both oneself and others. Ethical concepts and principles may be categorized in a number of different ways.

One way is to distinguish values and choice, so that individual accountants choose which actions to perform, based in part on the values that hold priority in their minds. The focus of ethics education has been the development of the competencies required of accountants in order to act ethically. Furthermore, it appears to have focused on the choice dimension, and has not given equal attention to the values (such as "personal" and "professional" values) and to the character traits (virtues) that help to drive the choices that accountants make in practice.

The focus on making ethical choices is in large part the result of (and possibly results in) the fact that much recent ethics research has investigated individuals' ethical decision process, and the factors that influence the development and/or resolution of individuals' decision process (Rest et al. 1999). Strong links have been made between accountants' ethical decision process and their professional judgment (Thorne 1998), with empirical support for the correspondence between accountants' ethical reasoning process and their professional judgment. …

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