Forging Ethical Professionals Begins in the Classroom
The recent corporate accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia Communications, and Tyco International, as well as the largest American embezzlement of taxpayer funds of a school district, in Roslyn. N.Y., have compelled academics to review the ethical training of students. Many of the corporate executives involved in the fraudulent acts were trained in some of the most prestigious schools in the nation.
Institutions of higher education are integrating courses on ethics into their curricula. There is an urgency to educate business students about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). Courses and programs on forensic accounting are also being expanded and repositioned to a higher priority level.
Colleges and universities have been investigating another contributing factor to the failed ethical conduct of our corporate executives and professional accountants: academic dishonesty on our campuses. Various studies suggest that we may be at the precipice of a culture of academic malfeasance, where large numbers of students engage in various t'omis of cheating.
This trend is troubling, especially because our business schools provide the formative training for many of our corporate and professional executives. Even more disturbing is that two studies [S. Nonis and C.O. Swift. "An Examination of the Relationship Between Academic Dishonesty and Workplace Dishonesty: A Multicainpus Investigation," Journal of Education for Business, November/December 2001, 69-76, and R.L. Sims. "The Relationship Between Academic Dishonesty and Unethical Business Practices," Journal of Education for Business, 68 (4), 1993, 207-212] found that students who committed acts of academic dishonesty in college were more likely to engage in unethical acts in the business environment. This is very disturbing and should not be taken lightly.
Accounting Students and Academic Dishonesty
All students should be expected to behave ethically and be academically honest. Because of the potential for accountants to be at the center of unethical business behavior, it is even more important to hold accounting students to the highest standards. It is imperative that educators encourage and insist on the academic honesty of accounting students. Academics must implement and enforce a strong code of academic honesty so that unethical accounting students are weeded out before they enter the accounting profession.
It is time for accounting professors and universities to take action. Just as SOX calls for stiffer penalties for business executives convicted of committing white-collar crimes, accounting students should face strong penalties for acts of academic dishonesty. Academic institutions should develop policies and procedures aimed at preventing academic dishonesty. A strong message needs to be sent to accounting students that academic dishonesty will not be toleratedthose who commit these acts will be severely penalized. What better place to restore the image of accountants than in the academic environment, where future accountants are educated?
The first step requires examining what appears to be a serious issue of academic dishonesty on college campuses. Academic dishonesty policies vary among institutions of higher education. The authors will recommend specific changes in the accounting education process to discourage academic dishonesty. Their purpose is to sound the clarion call to reverse this culture of academic dishonesty.
Magnitude of the Problem
The literature on academic dishonesty is very disturbing. Professor Donald McCabe, the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity (CAl), an organization of over 390 colleges, universities, and high schools based at Duke University, is dedicated to providing resources for creating a culture of academic integrity. McCabe, with the assistance of the CAI, has conducted extensive research on academic dishonesty (see www. …