After scandals, business schools wonder how to fit in ethics

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

AKRON, Ohio -- In the wake of recent accounting scandals, the University of Akron business school is urging its students to enroll in a new ethics course -- in the philosophy department.

"Certain words are sort of owned by certain departments," said Stephen Hallam, dean of Akron's College of Business Administration. "One of the words that is sort of owned by the philosophy department in lots of universities is the word 'ethics.'"

There is no clear consensus of how best to expand ethics offerings for business students, but a recent spate of accounting scandals that have tarnished once-mighty companies, including WorldCom and Enron, have given the subject a boost.

"We will take the students to a prison and let them talk to some people who didn't believe that ethics would be very important," said Edwin Hartman, director of the Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey. All full-time business students there will be required to take an ethics class next year.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International -- the major accrediting body for business schools -- is in the midst of revising its curriculum requirements for business schools, said chairman Jerry Trapnell.

"I suspect the issue of ethics and related matters will get some careful attention," Trapnell said. "Are we doing enough? Are our standards sufficiently clear? Are we setting the bar so this will be an important consideration for our students?"

Akron's preferred approach is to teach ethics through case studies in other courses, Hallam said, instead of in a stand-alone class that students take to fill a requirement.

"People are concerned about creating an 'ethics ghetto,'" a place students don't visit very often, Hallam said.

But Hans Grande, 30, who graduated from Haas in May, worries that if ethics is not made a formal part of the curriculum, attention will fade and his peers will again be caught up in the moneymaking frenzy that fueled the high-tech boom and bust of the late 1990s.

"I would worry that once the economy starts revving again, and there are more new technologies, people will get sidetracked," Grande said.

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