Graduate Students' Research Interest in Business Ethics: A Study of Dissertations

By Piotrowski, Chris; Guyette, Roger W., Jr. | College Student Journal, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Graduate Students' Research Interest in Business Ethics: A Study of Dissertations


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


Research on the nature of business ethics education during graduate-level training is somewhat limited. One approach in determining advanced students' research interest in the area is to examine the selection of 'business ethics' topics for dissertation research. The current study addressed this issue by conducting a topical content analysis of dissertations indexed in the premier online source: Proquest Dissertations & Theses database. This analysis surveyed 263 dissertations from 2012-2003. The findings indicated that the majority of dissertations focused on a narrow range of contemporary domains, i.e., moral awareness & development, values, leadership, pedagogical issues in business education, ethical climate, CSR, and undergraduate business instruction. Topics like whistle-blowing, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and corporate scandals were not major areas of focus. Moreover, issues like outsourcing, employee abuse, workplace safety, and tax evasion were rarely selected as dissertation topics. These exploratory findings indicate that, from a research perspective, graduate-level students tend to focus on a limited range of business ethics issues to the neglect of a host of ethical concerns in the corporate environment.

Introduction

Business ethics is an integral component of the business school curriculum (Johnson, 2012). Moreover, recent research indicates that today's graduate-level business students have an avid interest in issues like business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability (Guyette & Piotrowski, 2010). Besides pedagogic issues, academic investigators have studied research trends related to business ethics in the literature. Ma (2009), using a co-citation analysis approach, found that, between 1997-2006, the research 'themes' in business ethics shifted from ethical decision-making to stakeholder theory and consumer behavior. But an outstanding question remains: To what degree is today's contemporary graduate student influenced by the intellectual domain structure of the academic literature in business ethics? This query is pertinent since recent research has shown that graduate students' research exposure to business ethics is not necessarily comprehensive (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2013). In order to address this issue, the current study focused on the specific research area that graduate students select as their dissertation topic when examining the domain of business ethics.

Method

The study of dissertations provides a unique opportunity to examine an empirical question within the parameters of a select body of independent literature generated by advanced graduate students (Stock-Kupperman, 2011). Moreover, selection of a dissertation topic reflects key areas of interest within the wider domain of a disciplinary subject area (Luse, Mennecke, & Townsend, 2012).

The compendium of dissertations (over 2 million records) is available online from the database vendor PROQUEST, and considered a scholarly file by the academic community (Perdue & Piotrowski, 1991). This study examined dissertations, over the prior decade (2012-2003, inclusive), with a major focus on the topic of 'Business Ethics', as reflected in the Title or Abstract; based on this criteria, the analysis included 263 dissertations. Of these, about 60% were conducted in a business school program. A typology of subject area terms, within the domain of the sub-discipline Business Ethics, served as a protocol for categorization of dissertations individually. A frequency count distribution was maintained until all 263 dissertations were designated by specific topical focus.

Discussion

The results of this content analysis show that the specific business ethics topics emphasized by graduate students in their dissertation, although broad, seem heavily focused on a restrictive range of issues (see Table 1). Moral issues, ethical values, leadership characteristics, pedagogic approaches in business instruction, CSR, and issues in business school education were the main areas emphasized in dissertation research. …

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