Academic journal article American Journal of Business Research

Ethical Differences among Business Students: Do the Differences Really Exist?

Academic journal article American Journal of Business Research

Ethical Differences among Business Students: Do the Differences Really Exist?

Article excerpt


The paper investigates the predisposition of future business practitioners by comparing two groups of business students whose professions seem to be at the forefront of many ethical lapses. The study was designed to elicit responses from business students in multiple majors with regard to their perceptions of various items in the Maccoby's Head/Heart Trait scale. The study did not find any significant differences in the perceptions of the Head/Heart traits among quantitatively oriented (Accounting and Finance) students and qualitatively oriented (Management and Marketing) students. Given the frequency of real world ethics scandals and influenced by Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) recommendations, many business schools have included ethics as part of their core curriculums. This study undermines the generally held belief that given the nature of their curriculum, Accounting and Finance students tend to be different from Management and Marketing students with regard to their ethical orientation. Of course, more studies are required to answer lingering questions about teachability of ethical decision making in business schools.

Keywords: Ethics, Business, Curriculum, Traits, Accounting, Marketing


The last decade has seen a number of financial scandals that have often dominated the front pages of newspapers and the start of television news shows; the "Wall Street bail-out' with its alphabet soup of acronyms, the Madoff Ponzi Scheme, Enron/Arthur Anderson, Galleon Hedge Fund, AIG, and Parmalat Sp.A. are just some of the names that have been thrust into the limelight. A common denominator for each of these scandals is ethical misconduct by people working in the field of finance. These people are often bright, energetic, well trained, and hard working. They are almost always the product of business school training and they also engaged in what was clearly unethical behavior.

Revelations of massive ethical misdeeds in business often result in self-reflection by society and calls for Business Schools to make changes to prevent future abuses. This creates problems for the principle Business School accrediting body (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) and individual school curriculum committees. These are the units required to make sure that business education at a macro and micro level are meeting the needs of stakeholders.

Quite often, the reaction by Business Schools is to increase the dose of ethics training and education at various levels of the curriculum. Yet, ethical lapses continue to happen with alarming frequency. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that lapses in ethical conduct are not for the want of exposure to ethical concepts and we should look elsewhere for the reasons for ethical misconduct.

Two possible alternatives can be offered:

1) Even though ethical concepts can be taught, ethical behavior cannot be taught but can only be learned through real-time and on-the-job experience. Can you teach business ethics to students who do not yet know business?; and

2) The reason why the finance industries have repeated scandals is because the people who major in those subjects are pre-disposed to less ethical behavior whatever courses they take.

The following paper evaluates these two particular questions in detail through a review of the extant literature. Additionally, the second question is then tested using data from a survey of business students. The final sections of the paper consider the results of the survey and develop suggestions for new pathways for future research.

The contribution of the paper is to test two widely held and popular views and identify the extent to which they are supported by evidence. If future ethical problems are to be avoided it is essential to discern supported fact from populist fiction. There are two business school 'constituents' that may gain from the current research; these are a) accrediting bodies and b) curriculum committees in schools/colleges of business. …

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