Ethics in Accounting Education: The Forgotten Stakeholders

By Bernardi, Richard A.; Bean, David F. | The CPA Journal, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Ethics in Accounting Education: The Forgotten Stakeholders

Bernardi, Richard A., Bean, David F., The CPA Journal

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) recently issued an exposure draft on proposed revisions to the Uniform Accountancy Act. Rules 5-1 and 5-2. NASBA is currently reviewing the comments that have been received. Practicing professionals and academics are certainly invaluable to the review process. The views of students pursuing accounting degrees, however, are seldom received and should be considered when establishing the requirements to sit for the CPA exam.

As part of an advanced accounting course at a private college in New York State, 30 students were required to take a position on the NASBA proposal for additional ethics courses and to support their decision. By a two-to-one ratio, the accounting students surveyed were in favor of NASBA's proposal for additional ethics courses.

The students' comments were insightful and indicative of those desiring to enter the profession. Many of the students advocating additional ethics courses argued that ethics should be taught as separate and distinct courses and not interwoven into the business curriculum. Many students also expressed that the 150-hour requirement will discourage students from studying accounting.

Opinions on Requiring Ethics

The accounting profession and its regulators have overlooked their responsibility to solicit students' views on requiring a separate accounting ethics course and business ethics course, as well as the importance of ethics within the accounting curriculum. In this study, students advocating ethics courses took some interesting positions not generally seen or publicized. They are strong proponents for their point of view, and their supporting reasoning provides an insight into their fervor (the comments throughout are taken directly from students' responses):

* Ethics is highly depended on in this profession. The importance of it is being minimized by our curriculum's refusal to integrate ethics as required courses.

* It seems foolish of these authorities to make so many excuses concerning an issue that so obviously needs to be solved.

* Ethics is a field of learning, not a personality trait.

Teaching Ethics

With regard to whether ethics can be taught in the classroom, the position of students is similar to those of professionals and academics. The two basic opposing viewpoints are:

* ethics can and should be taught in the classroom: and

* ethics cannot be taught at this stage, and someone is either ethical or not.

Some of the more interesting student views and concerns about the place of ethics in the curriculum were as follows:

* Accountants should always represent the highest level of professionalism, and enforcing ethics upon accounting students is crucial to the values they develop while completing their education.

* While ethics education is vital to the success of all professionals in the business field, it [is not] something that can be taught.

* An institution or college might be able to teach good solid ethical values in the classroom, but the teachings will not always stick.

The Need for Ethics Courses

NASBA's proposal seems to respond to the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business' (AACSB) Ethics Task Force's (AACSB, Ethics Education in Business Schools. AACSB International, St. Louis, 2004) recommendation for "member schools and their faculties to renew and revitalize their commitment to ethical responsibility at both the individual and organizational levels. Schools should be encouraged to demonstrate this commitment throughout their academic programs." While some institutions may respond that they are meeting the requirement for ethics coverage using an across-the-curriculum approach, the results of AACSB team visits do not support this claim. Many commentators think that our business school curriculum "may be inadvertently overemphasizing technical training and ignoring ethical considerations" (Steven Lysonski and William Gaidis, "A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Ethics of Business Students," Journal of Business Ethics, 1991). …

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