Got Ethics?

Posted Nov 06, 2012 by Hult Labs

Amid the scandals plaguing Wall Street the last few years, there’s been a collective outcry from various parties to shine a brighter spotlight on the organizational cultures of companies implicated in financial misdeeds – large and small, stark and not so stark. Because it seems that corruption, collaborative and otherwise, breeds at a much higher rate and at a deeper level at some organizations versus others.

But what is at the root of an organizational culture suffering from a malfunctioning moral compass?  Recently, there’s been a renewed murmuring to put a lot more focus on the business schools that educated some of the principal players involved in Wall Street (and beyond) scandals. Is sparse instruction on ethics in the classroom to blame?

Luigi Zingales, a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, posits that business schools don’t do enough to provide students with a foundation to tackle sticky ethical dilemmas in the real world. And, he’s not alone.

In his Bloomberg View article “Do Business Schools Incubate Criminals”, Zingales writes: “If teachers pretend to be agnostic, they subtly encourage amoral behavior without taking any responsibility. True, economists are not moral philosophers, and we have no particular competence to determine what is ethical and what is not. We are, though, able to identify behavior that makes people better off.”

Zingales believes that business schools need to begin incorporating ethics into the core curriculum. It’s one way to ensure that students will have to think about ethics repeatedly as they complete core classes, and not as an abstract afterthought. Zingales believes the way to do this is by teaching real-world business examples of cases that show the dark consequences of “engaging in bad behavior.” Though he agrees that some people will be impervious to ethical instruction, he believes this approach will arm students with more examples of how to tackle situations in which the delineation between what’s right and wrong is far more murky than clear. And, hopefully for some it will provide an opportunity for some introspection on the type of professional they want to be out in the real world, as well as the kind of organization that promotes the behaviors they believe are important.

What are your thoughts on the best way to teach ethics in the classroom?

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