Is Graduate Students' Research Exposure to Business Ethics Comprehensive?

By Piotrowski, Chris; Guyette, Roger W., Jr. | College Student Journal, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Is Graduate Students' Research Exposure to Business Ethics Comprehensive?


Piotrowski, Chris, Guyette, Roger W., Jr., College Student Journal


Graduate-level education, at its core, has a focus on specific, in-depth disciplinary subject matter, with a strong emphasis on methods, conceptual framework, and research. For the developing student, exposure to both past and current research developments is mainly achieved by reading and studying articles published in leading journals in their field or specialty. In the business school curriculum, coursework in business ethics has attained a rather lofty stature in the preparation of the next generation of business leaders. The vexing question, however, is: Are business students provided with a comprehensive pedagogy with regard to ethics issues when they access leading journals in the area. The current study addressed this issue by conducting a content analysis, based on topical focus of articles, in the premier periodical Journal of Business Ethics, from June 2009 to June 2012. The analysis found support for the Matthew Effect which discusses skewed distributions, i.e., the majority of articles emphasized a narrow range of contemporary topics. Corporate social responsibility, cross-cultural factors, ethics standards, sustainability, customers' views, environmental issues, and U.S. corporate scandals had the most research focus. The most noteworthy deemphasized areas are: outsourcing, employee abuse, workplace safety, and tax evasion. These findings indicate that, from a research perspective, graduate-level business students are exposed to a limited number of central ethical issues to the neglect of a host of important business ethics concerns in today's corporate environment.

Introduction

A basic tenet of a college education is to experience a comprehensive, but critical, review of various academic disciplines. At the undergraduate level, much of this education is rudimentary in nature attained via coverage in introductory or elementary texts that survey a specific field (Gordon, 2011; Guyette & Piotrowski, 2010). Graduate-level education utilizes a more in-depth specialty approach, with a strong emphasis on method and research (Cabral & Huet, 2011). Thus, graduate students become more indoctrinated in the research process and spend considerable amounts of time studying the research literature entombed in academic and scholarly journals.

Business Ethics Education

The sub-discipline of business ethics has emerged at an exponential pace over the past decade (Jewe, 2008; Weiss, 2006). In fact, business ethics courses have been integrated into the standard business curriculum at both small and large colleges and universities. Moreover, based in part by the wave of corporate misconduct in the public and private sector, issues pertaining to business ethics have garnered much attention from students and faculty alike, and has generated considerable research interest, particularly at the graduate-level. In recent years, there has been a heightened level of research focus on ethical decision-making and business ethics coursework (Libby et al., 2005; Sweeney & Costello, 2009). Research seems to indicate that today's business students are more cognizant of ethical standards pertaining to organizational life than students in the 1980s (Emerson & Conroy, 2003).

Complementing the resurgence of focus on business ethics in higher education, there has been a proliferation of interest in the topic of business ethics in the publishing community. In fact, various academic and practice journals have appeared with a specific focus on business ethics research. Recent survey data, obtained from academic ethics scholars, has identified the Journal of Business Ethics as the premier journal and publication outlet in the field (Albrecht et al., 2010).

The Current Study

The current research effort addresses a single, but important question: How comprehensive is business students' research orientation with regard to business ethics? To that end, the aim of this study was to conduct a topical review, based on a content analysis framework, of the aggregate research articles that appear in the Journal of Business Ethics over the past 3 years (June 2009-June 2012). …

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