Thursday, February 22, 2007
Teaching Ethics In B-School
There are five times as many ethics courses taught at America's top business schools than were offered twenty years ago, according to the article at the link below. Ethics courses started to become popular during the 80's, partly as a legacy of Watergate, and also because of Michael Milken, Ivan Boeski and other high-profile white collar offenders of the Gordon Gekko era. The initial emphasis was on "those three reliable commandents", which consisted of "don't lie, don't cheat, and don't steal" - but the focus of business school ethics courses has expanded in perhaps predictable directions. The most popular such courses tackle environmental issues, and the problem of sustaining business growth without hurting the planet. Ethics courses have flourished partly because of student interest, but also as a calculated strategy of the schools themselves to offer a distinctive and provocative curriculum - "ethics" exploited as a sales tool, to wit.
The Christian Science Monitor approves of the trend, so long as it isn't just a passing fad and has some effect in the real world once the B-school students graduate. "As long as the ethics evolution doesn't lose sight of those three reliable commandments [don't lie, cheat or steal], it's a welcome one." A belief in ethics must be taken seriously to have any real value. Otherwise, it merely deepens the hypocrisy of those who nod in the direction of "the right thing to do", but never really change their behavior.
Nonetheless, in these times when corporate indulgence in lying, cheating and stealing has all but jumped the shark, business ethics are more sorely needed than ever. Even corporations know this. According to a recent survey conducted by the Ethics Resource Center, about 70 percent of American companies provide ethics training for their employees, a 14 percent increase since 2003 - but there's little evidence to suggest that this training has yet made any impact.
The tone of the article, like that of those other articles about corporate "niceness", is appropriately skeptical.
"Business ethics and the bottom line" from The Christian Science Monitor