Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This Just in Researchers Discover Fish Swim

From today's Collegian,
Linda Trevino, professor of organizational behavior at Penn State, found in a new study that 56 percent of graduate students in MBA programs admit to cheating, compared to 47 percent of non-business graduate school students.
Now as the old( pre-DNA Testing) saying goes when faced with paternity deny penetration. My guess is that many of the MBA students aren't owning up to cheating and that the figure that cheat is much higher.
Professor Trevino believes that businesses and business schools can teach ethics.
Ethics can certainly be taught. People can be taught to recognize ethical issues when they arise and they can be given decision making skills and told what expectations are. But, education isn't enough. Most people are susceptible to influences from the environments in which they find themselves. Therefore, organizations and their leaders must create strong ethical cultures in which ethical behavior is supported and unethical behavior is seriously disciplined. This happens by focusing on multiple systems (including reward and disciplinary systems) that all point employees in the right direction. Senior leaders who deal with the most ambiguous ethical issues should be thoroughly vetted for their moral courage and ethical leadership.

I agree with Trevino on this; you can teach ethics but the organizational environment is important. I would add that teaching ethics in a business school is akin to teaching chastity in a whorehouse. If you succeed you won't be a whorehouse anymore. Put less colorfully, a cavalier attitude to ethics is an essential part of the environment both in business schools and in the business world. This is the reason that we have the reoccurring episodes of corporate scandals. As Trevino herself noted following the Enron scandal.
We have certainly not seen an end to large business scandals. Anyone who has been around the business ethics field for a while knows this. Every round of scandals is followed by new regulation and perhaps better behavior for a while. Nevertheless, it seems that some people will find new ways to get around laws and regulations. So, it will continue to be very important for regulators and others to keep their eyes on industries that are ripe for new types of scandal. Elliott Spitzer's focus on unethical "business as usual" in whole industries has been particularly helpful in this regard.
Today Enron is old news, but everyone is talking about Patricia Dunn and corporate spying at HP. Likewise we can expect that business schools will continually be plagued by cheating.

No comments: