In Wake of Scandals, Business Schools Wonder Where to Put Ethics

By Singer, Paul | THE JOURNAL RECORD, August 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

In Wake of Scandals, Business Schools Wonder Where to Put Ethics


Singer, Paul, THE JOURNAL RECORD


AKRON, Ohio -- In the wake of recent accounting scandals, the University of Akron business school is urging its students to enroll in a new ethics course -- in the philosophy department.

"Certain words are sort of owned by certain departments," said Stephen Hallam, dean of Akron's College of Business Administration. "One of the words that is sort of owned by the philosophy department in lots of universities is the word `ethics.'"

There is no clear consensus of how best to expand ethics offerings for business students, but a recent spate of accounting scandals that have tarnished once-mighty companies including WorldCom and Enron have given the subject a boost.

"We will take the students to a prison and let them talk to some people who didn't believe that ethics would be very important," said Edwin Hartman, director of the Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey. All full-time business students there will be required to take an ethics class next year.

Business schools, President Bush said in June, must be "principled teachers of right and wrong and not surrender to moral confusion and relativism."

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International -- the major accrediting body for business schools -- is in the midst of revising its curriculum requirements for business schools, said chairman Jerry Trapnell.

"I suspect the issue of ethics and related matters will get some careful attention," Trapnell said. "Are we doing enough? Are our standards sufficiently clear? Are we setting the bar so this will be an important consideration for our students?"

Hartman said business schools in general did not focus heavily on ethics until the late 1980s, when they had to face the junk bond scandals and the savings and loan crisis.

Since then, most have increased their ethics offerings, he said, but the current bookkeeping scandal is raising attention again and making people take another look at their courses.

However, Hartman noted that many colleges that are adding ethics components now say they were already updating the curriculum before the accounting scandals came to light at communications giant WorldCom and the once high-flying energy-trader Enron. …

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