Op-Ed: Businesses, Business Schools Need To Stress Ethics
by Linda Klebe Treviño, Franklin H. Cook Fellow in Business Ethics
In September, I published a study with two colleagues, Donald McCabe of Rutgers University and Kenneth Butterfield of Washington State University, regarding academic dishonesty in graduate business schools. We surveyed more than 5,000 business and non-business graduate students from 32 colleges in the United States and Canada about academic integrity, the prevalence of dishonesty, and motivating factors behind why graduate students cheat.
The results were shocking to many. Our survey revealed that 56 percent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the past academic year as compared to 47 percent of their graduate non-business student peers.
When we released our study, we received an overwhelming response from the media including BusinessWeek, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and major newspapers in markets around the country. Clearly the fact that more than half of the b-school students in our survey admitted to cheating struck a chord.
Business owners and employers are likely asking if this questionable behavior will persist after grad school and translate into unethical business practices.
In recent years we've seen dishonesty affect large corporations, but the reality is that unethical behavior can occur in an organization of any size. Consider your own business. When you seek job candidates, you likely review qualifications and past work experience. How many employers ask a job candidate probing questions about their integrity and honesty? And even if you ask, how often does the subject come up again after the interview? Do you also talk about your organization's values and how the culture supports those values?
Our research revealed that graduate business school students cheated primarily because there was a perception that their peers were cheating. We speculate that they may have reasoned that cheating was therefore acceptable or necessary in order to compete.
To prevent dishonest behavior before it starts, we need to instill a culture of integrity in both the classroom and in the workplace. At Penn State's Smeal College of Business, students and administrators are working together to create a strong culture of academic integrity. At a professional level, employers, too, must place a greater emphasis on integrity and "doing the right thing."
Here in Philadelphia, where we offer the Smeal Executive MBA program, it hits closer to home. Because our EMBA students currently work full time for area employers while attending classes, integrity issues extend beyond their time in the classroom. Our Executive MBA and on-campus MBA students are now piloting a new honor code that makes integrity and ethical actions an integral part of the academic experience. Companies large and small would be wise to do the same. Don’t just talk about honesty during the interview. Carry it through every day and make it a central part of your culture.
As Mahatma Ghandi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." The time is now for educators and employers alike to create change by focusing more intently and more systematically on honesty and integrity in our classrooms and conference rooms.
This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal on Dec. 1, 2006.