Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Integrating Ethical Decision Making in Multiple Business Courses

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Integrating Ethical Decision Making in Multiple Business Courses

Article excerpt


The motivation for this paper is twofold. One is the personal frustration related to the ethical development of students experienced by these authors over a combined 20 years in business schools teaching undergraduate and graduate students in the classroom and online. The second is to respond to the public blame bestowed on business schools for scandals such as Enron and Madoff. This paper is a call for any reluctant professor to integrate ethics into more than pure ethics courses. Decision making is the trigger for deciding the most appropriate place to do so with the recommendation that ethics be integral to any opportunity in which decisions are made at the personal or professional level for an individual, group, organization or society.


Ethics is a "code of behavior that restricts self interest for the greater long term good of society" (Sharp, 2006, p. xv). Ethics and morality are interchangeable and overlap (Sucher, 2008). Both involve judgments about what is good and bad or right and wrong; both pertain to the study of human conduct, relationships and values (Fuqua & Newman, 2006). The code is an amalgamation of intellect, reasoning, experience, education, relationships, values and culture (Longest & Darr, 2008).

Ethical decision making is complex as a result of conflicts among individual differences, how people and businesses think about ethical decisions and how organizations manage resources and employees (Trevino & Youngblood, 1990). It is a process in which a moral base is used to determine whether a moral issue is right or wrong (Carlson et al., 2002).

A moral issue is present when a person's willful actions may harm or benefit others (Jones, 1991).

A moral base is the set of rules that develop during moral development that function as a platform for distinguishing right from wrong (Carlson et al., 2002). This article summarizes how the development takes place. Sucher (2008) adds that the moral base is the foundation for moral reasoning related to accepted behavioral norms, boundaries and expectations.

Laws are "rules of conduct prescribed by society and enforced by public authority" (Longest and Darr, 2008, p.169). Additionally, criminal laws of right and wrong are the ethical code of conduct while civil law addresses relationships in society. Laws are formal (bylaws of an organization, charters, treaties and professional codes of conduct) and informal (custom, cultural norms, tradition). However, uncertainty clouds what is legal (formal) versus ethical. This introduces consequences that influence a decision to act. The opposite principle is the Golden Rule, which focuses on duty rather than consequences.


Business ethics comprises company attitude and conduct toward stakeholders including employees, customers and community served (Kashman, 2005). Since the 2001 Enron scandal, colleges and especially business schools have been undergoing soul-searching in terms of curriculum reform related to ethics (DiMeglio, 2009). In response, there was a 500% increase in the number of stand-alone ethics courses over the period 1999-2007 (BizEd, 2007).

The apparent deterioration of ethical decision making reaches far beyond whether business school students are ethically challenged. Ghoshal (2005) asserts that the bottom line orientation to business has shaped leaders, policy makers and college professors. Additionally, businesses and business schools may be fostering the decline in moral responsibility by casting shareholders as the supreme stakeholder to the detriment of all other stakeholders.

When corporate compensation packages offer people vast wealth for behaving badly, it is tough for an ethical organization to compete. Therefore, Schonsheck (2009) calls for challenging anyone in authority to consider how such unregulated schemes condone the various character flaws that lead to the scandals in the news. …

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