Are Ethics Taught at Top MBA Programs?

Yuriy A's picture
Rank: Orangutan | 287

Bloomberg had an interesting article up today
discussing whether our top business schools are properly teaching ethics to their students. In summary, the article uses some of the recent examples of top execs that were convicted on insider trading charges who were Wharton and HBS grads to argue that business schools are not putting enough emphasis on teaching ethics and applying them to a real world setting.

Never having been "rich", it puzzles me why someone with such an incredible resume and what is probably a very large net worth such as Rajat Gupta would stoop to insider trading. We have all heard the saying "there is no such thing as being too rich" but from Gupta's perspective, the risk/reward of his actions do not make sense to me.

Thinking about my own education experience, through the first two levels of the CFA there is a heavy dose of ethics, however, reflecting back on my undergrad, we had a very basic ethics chapter in an introductory business class, but besides that, ethics were never really covered in any of the other courses.

As I am getting prepared to start my MBA this summer, I am curious to see how well ethics are ingrained into the program and throughout the different classes. Any current students in UG or MBA can comment on what they are seeing at their schools with regard to ethics discussions?

Comments (12)

Jul 17, 2012

In my opinion, ethics is not something you are taught when you are in your late twenties. If you don't know by then, what is right and what is wrong, I dont think some presentations and maybe a couple of seminars will teach you that.

It's like life experience - You don't learn it in a classroom.

Jul 17, 2012
atleastimnotabanker:

In my opinion, ethics is not something you are taught when you are in your late twenties. If you don't know by then, what is right and what is wrong, I dont think some presentations and maybe a couple of seminars will teach you that.

It's like life experience - You don't learn it in a classroom.

Exactly. It's a also a personality thing - some people are just more prone to moral maleficence than others, regardless of how good their upbringing was. It may be that the very same personality traits that make certain people successful also contribute to their lack of ethical standards.

"Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them." - Bud Fox

Jul 17, 2012

In order to graduate from an accredited undergrad business school, you have to take a business ethics class.

From my own experience, it was one of the most boring and slightly difficult classes I have taken. The class started with readings from classical greek thought, then advanced to modern times. The most relevant part of the class was two days spent watching the Enron movie, and then discussing it in class.

The class wasn't necessarily focused on "right" vs "wrong," but also talked about making "just" and "fair" decisions. Essay questions were something similar to this: "you are CEO at XXX, you can do YYY or ZZZ or XYZ, please describe the impact on stakeholders your decision would have." A big focus was on the importance of employees and their families, and the local community of a business/factory/store.

And I completely agree, behaving ethically has much more to do with an entire set of life experiences than just one class. If anything, the best way to teach ethics, would be to have applied ethics in every course that is ~5% of the course content.

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Jul 17, 2012

In undergrad we got a very heavy dose of it, but I was at a private uni that required a "Christian Perspective" in a portion of our assignments, and had a very unique approach. It was pretty easy in some assignments (in leadership and change management-servant leadership), harder in others (economics - focus on the shortsightedness of GDP and implications for production on value, and wise investment of resources), and near-impossible in things like Accounting (intangables like goodwill through CSR prehaps?).

I generally forgot this part of the assignment as though I had a very strong sense of ethical awareness and was heavily involved in charity and humanitarian work, it wasn't something that I saw as relevant to my degree or something that should be part of my courses. Now days in Law there are concepts that deal with it also in terms of "unjust enrichment" and "equity" and "dealing in good faith," but these are difficult concepts to pin down.

Honestly, if our business law courses focused more on determining directors duties, and employees rights, responsibilities and duties under law, and consequences, there might be some progress. Progress isn't guaranteed, because the law is quite limited in regard to its ability to enforce consequences, but at the moment kids are taught to be creative and maximise profitability for the firm, without any regard for ethical investments or the implications on human life, the environment, Corporate social responsibility, etc at the other end. Without these considerations factored into the duties owed to shareholders, how can we blame anyone when people simple continue to act out of the duties we taught them to, and ignore factors like ethics we told them weren't important or relevant to their investment decisions. If we taught kids to consider risk/benefit analysis and apply it to their own life, we might get somewhere, but people don't generally seem to do this either.

Jul 17, 2012

Teaching ethics is definitely a touchy thing and I think previous posters who emphasized that it cannot be taught have a good point. I took many ethics courses as an undergrad at a Service Academy, all of which I deemed completely useless. In fact, they seemed to be less about ethics than about political indoctrination...almost as a tool for the PC police.

However, the one ethics course I took at my Top 10 MBA program I thought was excellent. It was light on obscure ethical philospophy and academic theory and really focused on case studies where some serious ethical decisions needed to be made. Most of these cases were the kind that had 'no wrong answer' as so many questions had to be addressed. An example was BP building an oil pipeline through Angola (which they did a few years back) and all the questions arising from that to include both political issues (illiberal regimes) and environmental concerns.

I do not think you can teach someone to avoid insider trading as it is a fairly black and white issue. However, you can get people to think more broadly about the decisions that they make and how those decisions might have secondary and tertiary ethical questions.

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Jul 17, 2012

Ethics was the most disgusting topic we ever had to cover. I could spend the entire day ripping apart how awful that class was and how messed up it is to tell people that there's some sort of actual method to right and wrong, but I'd waste my entire workday so I can't do that. Bottom line to me is that ethics are some fucked up shit to try and teach a group of people, because not only can't they be taught, but there's no way to label something as "ethical" or "not ethical" because we all think differently. Change the name of the class to philosophy or debate if you want us to just talk about how we feel about insider trading or something.

Oh, and we already have a name for that thing where you want everyone to conform to a certain standard of behavior for the benefit of the common good - it's called a fuckin' law.

Jul 17, 2012
BlackHat:

Ethics was the most disgusting topic we ever had to cover. I could spend the entire day ripping apart how awful that class was and how messed up it is to tell people that there's some sort of actual method to right and wrong, but I'd waste my entire workday so I can't do that. Bottom line to me is that ethics are some fucked up shit to try and teach a group of people, because not only can't they be taught, but there's no way to label something as "ethical" or "not ethical" because we all think differently. Change the name of the class to philosophy or debate if you want us to just talk about how we feel about insider trading or something.

Oh, and we already have a name for that thing where you want everyone to conform to a certain standard of behavior for the benefit of the common good - it's called a fuckin' law.

Fully agree with this. Ethics, by definition, change throughout history (sacrificing virgins was ethical in Ancient Greece...), and so are inherently subjective. This is also why I am against the Bloomberg article - it bashes the ethics classes that show you both the sides of the spectrum without taking a dogmatic position, while I believe that these exact classes are the ideal ethics classes. Ethical decisions are subjective, and differ by individual. Ethical consensus forms the law.

And, most importanly, I am pretty sure the gentlemen conducting the insider trading knew it was unethical - they don't need a class to tell them that. It is just that they IGNORED that fact, and proceeded to profit by being unethical. Following what you consider to be ethical is something, as mentioned above, that is cultivated by yourself, by your life, ethics classes are pretty much pointless. have a philosophy class to make peopel re-examine their beliefs and place in society, that I think would be productive.

As you can see I love to philosophize :)

To the starving man, beans are caviar

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Jul 17, 2012

Also BlackHat your previous photo was much cooler

To the starving man, beans are caviar

Jul 17, 2012
philosophizingphilosoraptor:

Also BlackHat your previous photo was much cooler

Lol which one, SpyVsSpy or the mustache guy?

Jul 17, 2012
BlackHat:
philosophizingphilosoraptor:

Also BlackHat your previous photo was much cooler

Lol which one, SpyVsSpy or the mustache guy?

The one with a mysterious spy-looking dude (touching?) his prominently displayed black hat, photo angled from the top down...on second throughts however the current one is also pretty badass

To the starving man, beans are caviar

Jul 17, 2012

good post!

Jul 17, 2012
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