Is Teaching Business Ethics a Waste of Time?

English: , Prussian philosopher. Português: , ...

English: , Prussian philosopher. Português: , filósofo alemão. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Business school and ethics: Can we train MBAs to do the right thing? – Slate Magazine

The only way we’ll get our students to integrate their moral compasses with the practical tools of business we teach them is to incorporate the topic of ethics throughout the curriculum. This will require the accounting and finance and marketing professors to grasp the ethical blind spots inherent in their respective areas, and to appreciate and recognize approaches to lessening them. Professors, in other words, need to be moral architects themselves.

When you stop and ask students whether they’d like their dying words to be “I maximized profits,” a wave of laughter ripples through the class, as all but the most callous have higher aspirations for themselves. When we ask MBA students why they might want to be a CEO, the first two responses are “I want to make a difference” and “I enjoy a challenge”; “Making gobs of money” always comes in third. We need to work harder to equip students to live up to those aspirations. And if we’re not going to make a better-faith effort in this endeavor, perhaps we should remove discussion of ethics from business schools altogether. Otherwise, it serves merely as empty PR for MBA programs and to appease the consciences of those who teach in them.

Business school and ethics: Can we train MBAs to do the right thing? – Slate Magazine

Maybe, but I don’t think so. I do think the way like the article says that the way business ethics is taught now is a failure and a disaster. The article recommends embedding ethics in every part of the business curriculum. That would be nice, but it is neither necessary or likely that will happen.

I recommend that business ethics be taught the way I do it. (I know, everybody does – however, hear me out.) I believe in giving business students the opportunity to develop their own moral landscape. I use moral problems, big ones, airline crashes, economic disasters, fires, murders, etc., as examples. Then I ask students the big questions: Who’s responsible and what should be done? They decide within a set of guidelines. I tell them that for every big open ended question, that there are usually around five or so really good answers, eleven to fifteen mediocre answers and an infinity of bad inadequate poorly thought out answers. I tell them to look for the five.

By providing the students with broad guidelines and by refusing to tell them the “right” answers, I engage their judgment. They write brief essays justifying their choices, and then we do it again and again. By the end of the semester, they have created a moral framework, that I hope lasts for their lifetimes certainly for many years. My perception is that self education, self creations in a real sense is the most effective means of education.

James Pilant

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One thought on “Is Teaching Business Ethics a Waste of Time?

  1. Pingback: Can we teach MBA’s to do the right thing? « Business, Society, and Government 4

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