Ethical Decisions in Academia: The Moderating Effect of Locus of Control in Asian Cultures

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Today, more than ever before, universities understand the need to prepare business students for the multifaceted aspects of the business world. Merely providing students with technical skills is insufficient preparation. Upon graduation, students are faced with an international and multicultural work environment in which human differences and similarities can greatly impact business strategies. Part of the cultural element is ethical beliefs and perceptions of the members of the society.

The ethical orientation of students is ultimately carried into the workplace. The values and beliefs that students bring to the classroom and those they develop during the academic experience form the basis for ethical-decision making in their professional careers. Therefore, examining ethical beliefs and perceptions of business students in varying cultures and subcultures provides a mechanism for understanding the ethical orientations of future business leaders throughout the world.

As the world economy becomes increasingly integrated, it is more important to gain a greater understanding of the ethical orientation of the various subcultures. This study focuses on three Asian subcultures: the two countries of PRC and Viet Nam and Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China.

The primary research interest of this project is directed toward cultural differences that might be revealed by the responses of university students. However, since the areas surveyed are all from the same general geographical area, serious cultural differences are not expected. Mixed results have been reported in the Locus of Control (LOC) studies. However, whenever differences are reported, Internal LOC respondents have provided the more ethical responses. A secondary interest was directed toward whether LOC differences might have an affect on the ethical survey responses.

LITERATURE REVIEW

U.S. students have been the target of numerous studies attempting to gain a better understanding of the ethical orientation of university students (Arlow, 1991; Borkowski & Ugras, 1992; Grant & Broom, 1988; Hawkins & Coconougher, 1972; Jeffrey, 1993; Kahalas et al., 1977; Lysonski & Gaidis, 1991; McNichols & Zimmerer, 1985; Pratt & McLaughlin, 1989a: Pratt & McLaughlin, 1989b; Smith et al., 1998/99). During the last decade, additional studies have examined the ethical orientation of students in the international academic arena (Armstrong, 1996; Brody et al., 1998; Eynon et al., 1996; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1999; Lyonski & Gaidis, 1991; Mason & Mudrack, 1996; Nyaw & Ng, 1994; Stevenson & Bodkin, 1998; Whipple & Swords, 1992; White & Rhodeback, 1992.) Using a national variable in the analysis, these studies have yielded mixed results.

The literature reports several cross-national or cross-cultural studies using university student populations to examine ethical orientation. Using a country variable, research comparing North American students to students from Western European countries or Australia has generally not found a highly significant difference in the ethical perceptions and beliefs between these cultures. Arguably, there are limited cultural differences between the U.S. and Western European countries given the predominance of common Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Eynon et al. (1996) compared the ethical reasoning ability of accounting students in the U.S. and those in Ireland. The researchers administered a Defining Issues Test (DIT) in which the students were asked to make decisions about social issues. The researchers found no significant differences in the moral reasoning scores of the two groups of accounting students.

Stevenson and Bodkin's (1998) scenario-based study compared the ethical sensitivity of students in the U.S. and Australia. They asked students to evaluate twenty scenarios for acceptability and ethical practice in hypothetical sales situations. …

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