Saturday, March 14, 2009


Teaching Business Ethics: A Practical Approach

In the shower this morning I thought of a way to teach business ethics to our undergrads (and MBA students too maybe). I actually like the idea of teaching it as all or part of a course. But what is far more important is to stop any student from getting into the habit of cheating, and to teach them all that any cheater gets into big big trouble.

We have an honor code already, which is a good start. But what we really ought to do is to list any cheating incidents on the student's official transcript, a moral grade to go with the intellectual grade. Or, if you like, an "asterisk" of the same kind that casts doubt on a baseball player's batting average if he is found to have used steroids. If I were hiring a student, such information would be as important to me as his grades. It might even be more important, since I could give the student an interview or a test to see how smart he is, but I won't know before hiring him how honest he is.

Such a plan has about a .002 chance of being adopted by the university as a whole. Administrators don't, I think, care that much about cheating, but they do care a lot about having more record-keeping work to do and about exposure to litigation.

At IU, however, the business-school has higher standards than the rest of the university, and maybe we could do it. We have that Honor Code, after all. I don't think we can require students to sign onto it,but they all do. We could do something like this:

Any student may voluntarily agree on becoming a Business major that any disciplinary actions against him will be publicly available (or, perhaps, available to anyone to whom he releases his transcript, or to any registered recruiter). If he does not agree, a note to that effect will be put in his records. Recruiters will be notified of the possibility of getting the disciplinary records, and of the optional nature of the release.

I have not had any trouble with cheating in any of my classes of business majors at Indiana (I did have some trouble at UCLA with MBA students). I had a lot of cheating in a large business prerequisite course I taught, though, including from students who clearly were or were likely to become majors. I think a new release policy would have a substantial effect on instilling ethical behavior in our students, and that might be as important as any of the coursework we teach-- not just morally, but as a contribution to the economy.

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