Can you teach ethics?
There is always a lot of chatter about teaching ethics to MBAs. Wharton recently revamped, again, the core courses to re-emphasize ethics, and Harvard’s MBA ethics oath come to mind.
But the recent, horrible events in Libya have me thinking a little bit about this whole teaching ethics thing…
Colonel Gaddafi’s son – Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, or rather Dr Saif al-Islam since he is the proud holder of a doctorate from the LSE. The younger Gaddafi’s thesis was on the undemocratic nature of global governance (I have heard his father wax lyrical on the same theme from the podium of the UN). David Held, professor of politics at the LSE, recalls Gaddafi junior as manifesting a “deep commitment to liberal democratic reform of his country.” It has to be said that deep commitment didn’t seem to be much in evidence on Sunday when Saif Gaddafi made a rambling speech on television, threatening to fight “to the last bullet” to retain control of Libya.
Source: Financial Times
And according to the Guardian, Saif’s thesis was on “how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions”, focusing on the importance of the role of “civil society”.”
Ok, so LSE didn’t exactly turn a despot’s son into a democratic human rights reformer. Pretty extreme example, I know.
But it does highlight the strange role that people somehow expect business schools to take mature individuals and somehow ensure that they are all ethical business people once they graduate. Is this really possible?
It seems strange to me that journalists like to harp on how certain schools’ graduates do unethical things, as if somehow the school could keep/teach these people to act ethically for the rest of their lives.
What can business schools do?
I feel like the best schools can do is to 1) admit ethical people (to the best of their abilities given the admissions process) 2) kick out unethical people if they are unethical while at school, 3) establish a framework for dealing with ethical dilemmas in the business world and 4) let them know and that it is OK/normal to have ethical issues sometimes and that they should feel good/normal challenging unethical behavior in the workplace once they graduate.
A crazy idea – let in a few unethical MBAs
Schools let in people from all sorts of walks of life and with different backgrounds under the guise of exposing students to new things and having a well rounded class. Note that I liked having a well rounded class, since I had only worked in finance before school so getting exposure to people from different backgrounds was very positive for me. It would have been very boring to go to school with a lot of people who were just like me.
Now here is the crazy idea. Since school is a great place to experience new challenges in a low consequences environment… maybe it would make sense to admit a few unethical people? That way students would be exposed to working with people with a different value system and would learn how to deal with them?
Wouldn’t unethical people be just as an important group of people to be exposed to? There are clearly people in the business world who do nasty stuff. Why shouldn’t schools help students learn how to interact by fostering actual interactions?
I mean, it is easier to stand up to someone who wants to cheat on a group paper than it is to stand up to a boss who wants to do something nasty, isn’t it? Why not practice in school so you are ready for the real world?
Ok, so that was a crazy idea.
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