Are Ethics Courses Failing to Produce Ethical Business People? – Ethics Sage
The bottom line is there is no way of knowing whether business ethics education has made a difference. A graduate of a prestigious school might commit fraud in the future, but it doesn’t mean business ethics has failed them or even all students. Organizational pressures and the culture of a firm can create barriers to ethical behavior. The key is to find a way to work through the obstacles and voice your values.
I’m asked all the time why I teach ethics and am challenged whether it is even possible to change one’s ethics by a college course. After all, some argue, ethics is formed at a very early age. I don’t dispute that but do point out that my goal is to get students to reflect on their actions in a safe setting so they can better develop the tools to deal with ethical challenges in the workplace. I am not a guarantor of ethical action.
Teaching ethics should not rely on having one college course in business ethics and that is it. I see the failure of business ethics education to be one of not integrating ethics into each course and each decision in business. When colleges rely on one course to teach ethics, they are not sending the message that ethics counts. If they cover it in all courses and in the context of functional courses, then they send a completely opposite signal that it is an important part of every business decision.
I can teach business ethics – I know it from past experiences including grading papers, exams, and student presentations and papers on the topics. What I don’t know is whether students will really learn the lesson. Similarly, I can teach Intermediate Accounting to my students but I don’t know if they have truly learned the material and will be successful on the CPA Exam or in their accounting careers.
There is old African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child”. It is quite appropriate to say that it takes an organization to raise an ethical employee.
(I should mention that a great deal of this posting dealt with the “Giving Voice to Values” curriculum and the work of Mary C. Gentile. I have visited the web site for this curriculum and liked what I saw.)
I guess you could ask if classes in art, history or music are effective? It’s hard to measure the results once you wander even a little distance from the hard sciences, and even they have trouble coming up with hard data at times. Many of the most important subjects like leadership are difficult to teach and have results hard to measure. Ethics is no different. We “cast our bread on the water” and hope for it to return.