Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Ethical Reasoning Instruction in Undergraduate Cost Accounting: A Non-Intrusive Approach

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Ethical Reasoning Instruction in Undergraduate Cost Accounting: A Non-Intrusive Approach

Article excerpt


This article discusses a series of studies designed to yield statistically significant improvements in student moral reasoning when specific strategies and instructional materials were utilized in non-ethics undergraduate accounting and other business courses taught by instructors who were not formally trained in business ethics. The most recent research study reported in this article was conducted in an undergraduate Cost Accounting course. This study is one part of a larger set of confirmatory studies designed to corroborate results of previous research (Wilhelm, 2008) during the developmental phase for the intervention protocol. Control groups that were used in the previous studies (Wilhelm, 2008) served as proxy controls for the present study. Originally funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, the most recent study reported in this article was funded by a generous grant from the Delta Pi Epsilon Research Foundation, Inc.


A profession such as accountancy is formed on the basis of (1) a generally accepted body of knowledge, (2) a widely recognized standard of education, and (3) a code of ethics (Smith & Smith, 2010). A code of ethics is a crucial element in guiding the behavior of a professional. The three major accounting professional organizations that have established a professional code of ethics are the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). The responsibilities that the three codes of ethics place on accountants and the related professional standards for each organization have many similarities. They all require professional competence, confidentiality, integrity, and objectivity. Accounting professionals should only undertake tasks that they can complete with professional competence, and they must carry out their responsibilities with sufficient care and diligence. Ethics in accounting has become even more important in light of the scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Arthur Anderson, and others in the early 2000s. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is a reaction to these scandals. The act created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), and places greater responsibility on the company officers as to internal control and independent central oversight of public accounting firms that perform audit services.

While business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) must meet ethics training expectations delineated by Assurance of Learning Standard 15: Management of Curricula ("Eligibility Procedures," 2007), AACSB does not specify any courses or program template for delivering ethics and corporate social responsibility training to students. However, AACSB does proffer the notion that it is business faculty - not faculty from outside the business school, who should teach these concepts to undergraduate and MBA students. As stated in the AACSB study document, Ethics Education in Business Schools (AACSB International, 2004):

   Faculty involvement is an important indicator of the salience of
   issues in academic environments. Relegation of ethical issues to a
   small fraction of the faculty or to those perceived as having low
   status vitiates the power of the educational experience. Also, in
   an environment where concern over ethical issues has risen sharply,
   lack of business school faculty involvement may indicate a
   disconnection between the academic experience and the real world.
   If ethics content is taught primarily by faculty from outside the
   business school, questions should be raised as to what is done to
   convey the relevance of ethics in business practice. (p. 19).

Since "business ethics" and "corporate social responsibility" are not business disciplines in the traditional sense, and since many business professors do not feel themselves sufficiently trained to teach such courses (see Bok, 1988; Klein, 1998; Norman, 2004), business schools are left to grapple with the conundrum of how to teach business ethics to all students by using a large percentage of business school regular faculty. …

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