The many scandals that have come to light among companies like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs give some people the idea that the finance industry is seriously lacking in morality. There’s more to the issue though – some of the best business programs that we depend on to train business students are now to blame for the bad behavior at these companies and others.
Good business schools may actually be the ones instilling into top business executives that they can get away with heinous behavior. Business programs do offer ethics classes to students, but they often don’t use the best tactics to teach students about ethical behavior. Some ethics courses just present ethical predicaments to students without taking a stance on how those involved in the situation are supposed to act. Business students are shown the pros and cons of an issue, but are then left to make their own decision. This type of instruction fails to give any concrete answers about morality in business practices.
Other ethics courses at the best schools for business only teach students about the idea of corporate social responsibility and leave out any discussion of individual decisions. They insist that ethical decisions are made by firms as a whole, and not by the employees within each firm. This is a flawed way of presenting ethics because a firm is made up of its individual employees and the two cannot be separated. Students must first learn about individual moral decisions before learning about a company’s ethical responsibilities as a whole.
So how can the issues surrounding ethics courses at the best business colleges be dealt with? Schools must first recognize the problems with their current methods of teaching. The previously mentioned types of ethics classes are often taught by a specific professor to a group of students who’d rather not be in a classroom and therefore don’t retain much information anyways. Many schools’ approach to ethics only shows students that as long as they don’t get caught, they don’t have to worry about the morality of their choices.
Ethics should instead be integrated into every single course a student takes during their time spent pursuing a business degree. Instead of trying to learn all about ethics in one specialized course, they should be exposed to ethical issues in every business course they take, including accounting, finance, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and more. When discussing ethics in relation to the subject, professors must show the legal and financial troubles and the damage to reputations that come along with unethical decisions in business. They must also emphasize the consequences of a student who acts only for himself or herself.
There are always some business students who won’t take anything away from their ethical training in business school, and who will inherently behave badly in a business setting once they start their career. However, if business schools take some measures to discuss ethics throughout all parts of a student’s education, they may be able to help create a consensus among students that it’s important to act ethically, in hopes that this harmony will spread to other organizations and business. If everyone cooperates and tries to learn about ethics within business, we may not have to hear about the next biggest scandal each morning.