A Comparison of the Ethics of Business Students: Stated Behavior versus Actual Behavior

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Today's business community has demonstrated a paucity of business ethics, and raised concern among business educators about the efficacy of ethics instruction as part of a business education. Ever since details emerged about the corporate scandals at Enron, Tyco, MCI WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen, among others, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has struggled to determine what steps may be taken in higher education to prevent future ethical embarrassments (Verschoor, 2007). A study done by the Center for Academic Integrity found that 74 percent of business majors admitted to cheating. (Vierria, 2007).

More recently, at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, nearly 10% of a first-year class was found guilty of cheating on a take-home final exam. This occurred in spite of the school's emphasis on ethical behavior. And as we go to press, the FBI is investigating the roots of the current financial crisis with probes of 26 companies, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG Insurance, among others (Arena, 2008). One former FBI investigator has predicted that the scale of the financial fraud likely to be uncovered will dwarf that committed by Enron.

While some business faculties are struggling to incorporate an increased ethics component into their curricula, others believe that ethics cannot be taught in the classroom. In an effort to contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of ethical decision-making by business students, this research was devised with several objectives: (1) to examine the ethical choices business students make when faced with an ethical dilemma in a controlled environment, (2) to examine whether business students will make the choices they stated they would make when actually placed in a similar ethical dilemma, and (3) to determine whether age, gender, student status, and grade point average (GPA) are factors that influence ethical choices made by these students. To date, there has been no research examining whether business students' predicted ethical behavior matches their actual ethical behavior, so these questions provide a fertile area for research.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: the next section provides a review of prior research and presents the hypotheses to be tested in this study; the third section discusses the data collection and methodology used to test the hypotheses; the fourth section reports the descriptive statistics and the results; the summary and conclusions of the study are discussed in section five; the final section indicates the limitations of the current research and provides possible direction for future research.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESIS DEVELOPMENT

In the struggle to improve the ethics of business students, and ultimately the ethical climate of business, business educators and others have undertaken research to determine why and to what degree a business student cheats. Studies have compared business students to non-business students, male to female students, older students to younger ones, traditional students to non-traditional students, and graduates to undergraduates. Other researchers have examined cultural demographics, integrity culture, personality variables, and a student's Personal Ethical Threshold (PET) (Kisamore, et al, 2007). All of these studies seem to have been undertaken in the belief that the more we understand about our students' ethical decision-making process, the better equipped we will be to bring about their future ethical conduct.

Prior research indicates that the two factors which most consistently predict behavior that is more ethical are gender and age (Comer & Vega, 2007; Ruckinski & Bauch, 2006; Peterson et al, 2001; Ruegger and King, 1992; Trevino, 1986). In 1998, Borowski and Ugras conducted a meta-analysis of 47 individual previous studies on gender and 35 previous studies on age which had been conducted between 1985 and 1994. …