Can Ethics Education Impact Whistleblowing?

By Shawver, Tara J. | Management Accounting Quarterly, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Can Ethics Education Impact Whistleblowing?


Shawver, Tara J., Management Accounting Quarterly


We need more whistleblowers! That cry comes up from the public over and over as more incidents of professional malfeasance come to light. Yes, whistleblowers have helped to root out fraud, often leading to significant settlements, but the fact remains that serious organizational wrongdoing appears to be growing, not diminishing. (1) This has dire implications for many stakeholders.

what can be done to address concerns that organizational wrongdoing is increasing? Can it be discouraged by encouraging ethical behavior and educating people about their options when they see or hear of something that they think ought to be reported?

Not surprisingly, ethical behavior is a function of many factors, including personal values, cultural values, moral development, regulations, and ethics training. This article explores the effectiveness of an ethics training program embedded within a 12-week Advanced Financial Accounting course by testing for changes in attitudes about whistleblowing using an earnings-management case study.

SUPPORT FOR ACCOUNTING ETHICS EDUCATION

The accounting profession believes that the topic of ethics should be included in accounting curricula. (2) Although most academics agree, there is no consensus about the content and coverage of ethics within our c0ourses. Scott David Williams and Todd Dewett discussed the view that ethical decision making is a complex system of interactions and that it is an unrealistic goal of any ethics program to prevent any and all unethical behavior. (3) Increasing awareness, promoting moral development, and encouraging a student's ability to handle complex ethical issues are more reasonable goals. Stephen E. Loeb describes a comprehensive list of accounting ethics education goals based on suggestions from Daniel Callahan that include:

1. Relate accounting education to moral issues.

2. Recognize issues in accounting that have ethical implications.

3. Develop a "sense of moral obligation" or responsibility.

4. Develop the abilities needed to deal with ethical conflicts or dilemmas.

5. Learn to deal with the uncertainties of the accounting profession.

6. "Set the stage for" a change in ethical behavior.

7 Appreciate and understand the history and composition of all aspects of accounting ethics and their relationship to the general field of ethics. (4)

Loeb suggests that several course components may contribute to meeting these goals. Case analyses, he says, may foster every goal except the sixth one. Participation in class discussions, as well as a research paper and exams, may contribute to goals 1, 2, and 7.5 Unfortunately, there are few empirical studies that have attempted to assess teaching effectiveness after students complete an accounting ethics course, or ethics modules integrated within another course, using the goals listed previously.

In 2006, I examined the impact of five common course components (case analyses, participation, textbook readings, a research paper, and exams) to determine the effectiveness of a professional-responsibility course offered to accounting seniors. (6) I found that cases integrated within the course are effective at meeting goals 1, 2, and 6 and that class discussions help to meet goal 7. Writing a research paper is effective at reaching goal 5. Readings within the course textbook are significant for goals 2 and 4, and exams are effective at meeting goal 3. All five components examined were effective for at least one ethics education goal in the course. In 2008, I extended this research to examine the effectiveness of the same course components on a three-week ethics module embedded in an Advanced Financial Accounting course and found that case analyses are significant for goals 3, 4, and 6; exams for goal 5; and a research paper for goal 7.7

THE ADVANCED FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING COURSE

My research for this article examines the specific components within an Advanced Financial Accounting course to explore the effectiveness of course goals relating to ethics education at a micro level. …

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