This commenter, responding to a typically mushy article about teaching ethics in American business schools, says what UD always says about this subject. Either you scare b-school grads into good behavior, or forget it.

I mean, plenty of b-school grads are good people and will follow the law yadda yadda. Plenty aren’t good people, however, and they won’t follow the law. Are b-schools responsible for trying to change the not-good people into good people before they leave their business programs?

UD thinks it’s sweet of them to try, sweet of them to rig up be-good courses. But it don’t make no nevermind and you know it and I know it.

In line with this sensible commenter’s comment, UD, she reminds you, has proposed the following:

1. Drop all business ethics courses.

Initiate a program of visiting lecturers drawn from convicted business fraudsters residing in local prisons.


UD thanks David for the link.

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7 Responses to ““To think an ethics course is going to make ethical students is living in a dream world. I would be most suspicious of anybody who makes straight A’s in Ethics. If you want more ethical people, pass laws that can be enforced and enforce those laws. What keeps me on the straight and narrow is the idea of appearing before the Accountancy Board or even before FINRA, the SEC, or the Securties Board of my state to defend my license. That is my motivation to be ethical.””

  1. dmf Says:

    when one sees the preliminary studies showing that ethics professors are no more ethical in their daily lives than people with no formal education in the field the light begins to break through the fog, a larger point for many in higher-ed is that knowing about is not the same as knowing how and knowing how does not in and of itself lead to caring/doing…

  2. Daniel Goldberg Says:

    Without getting into the debate over the propriety of teaching ethics — UD knows where I stand on this issue! — I have to say that I have always found the idea that ethics professors should be more ethical to be both absurd and unfair.

    Training in applied ethics does not somehow imbue people with a Magic Virtue Key, and I see no reason for charging ethicists with special moral duties any more than we might expect physicists to be able to hit home runs because they understand swing mechanics.

    Ethicists should be held to the same standards as everyone else, and subject to the same criticisms when they fall short. But I think dmf is absolutely right: ethics is a practice, and content knowledge about ethics really is not guarantee at all that anyone will seek to live a virtious life.

  3. Mr Punch Says:

    Do we really want to imply that ethics is no more than obeying the law?

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Ethics is VASTLY more than obeying the law; but here we are concerned with a very particular form of behavior – financial wrongdoing – and the business school needs to target it.

  5. david foster Says:

    Daniel G…”I see no reason for charging ethicists with special moral duties any more than we might expect physicists to be able to hit home runs because they understand swing mechanics.”

    Not sure this is the right analogy. I think the physicist is more the analog of the general philosophy course…the right analog for a specialized professional ethics course would be a practical baseball training program. And surely we’d expect someone teaching a baseball program to have played the game seriously at some point in his life and been reasonably good at it.

    Yet in the case of ethics, I think the more generalized philosophy course is more likely to have a positive impact, even if marginal, than the professional ethics class. Especially if the philosophy course is undergraduate and the ethics course is post-grad.

  6. theprofessor Says:

    Gazillions of students will take a survey of calculus course and 6 months later be unable to take the derivative of x^2; or a French course and be unable to conjugate avoir in the present indicative; or think that, a year after a Shakespeare course, Hamlet is Porky’s little brother. Every student in this institution is required to take a semester-long wellness class, yet the huffing and puffing I see among them when they have to walk up a flight of stairs suggests very strongly that the point did not get through.

    Ethics classes will simply not work for people who don’t care, and no conscientious instructor would say otherwise. The whole point is to give those who do care some ways to think about how to recognize where ethical issues/conflicts exist and how to reason about a resolution. Ethics courses that put theories in the forefront (Aristotle, Kant, Mills, Rawls, etc.) will just about invariably lose 95% of the class in the first few weeks. The skillful instructors I know use cases as the focus, with the theories slipped in as needed. A problem with this is that undergraduates or even younger MBA students do not bring enough life experience to the case studies. If such a course benefits 10-20% of the students taking it, why not?–it’s certainly no worse than the staggering overall failure of most of our courses to sink into the noggins of our students.

  7. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    My university is in the process of rolling out a new mission/vision statement that lays a great deal of stress on ethics. For some reason, this makes me nervous (and not because I consider myself or my actions unethical). Reading through a couple of your recent posts, I think I better understand my reaction (all the more so because the b-school folks are heavily involved). Somewhere in there, I think I’m picking up on a whiff of protests-too-much.

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