November 10, 2009

Booth bucks trend: no required ethics course

When the financial crisis revealed holes in the ethical education of corporate workers, business schools reviewed their course offerings and made changes to their curriculum in an effort to prevent future failures. While the Booth School of Business is offering new courses dealing with the crisis, the core requirements have not changed, officials said last week.

“Chicago Booth completed a periodic review of our academic program and implemented a new curriculum,” said Lisa Messaglia, director of faculty services at Booth. “Our change was relatively minor and was not in direct response to the crisis.”

This quarter, Chicago Booth is offering a new class called “Money and Banking” on the operation and regulation of financial institutions, and two classes in the spring, “Business, Politics, and Ethics” and “The Analytics of Financial Crises.”

Some schools have completely overhauled their curriculum, either incorporating ethics into a wide array of courses or requiring ethics courses. Harvard Business School now requires students to take a course titled “Leadership and Accountability.” Nine hundred students took the course this fall.

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business includes an ethics unit in their required organizational leadership course and The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School requires students to take a class called “Ethics and Responsibility.” NYU Stern School of Business, which has required an ethics course in their graduate program for 30 years, recently added a required ethics course to their undergraduate program as well.

At Chicago Booth, a committee interviewed various stakeholders—faculty, recruiters, students, and alumni—for their input on current required classes.

“The message we heard was the people liked the curriculum and that no major changes were needed,” Messaglia said. “We did simplify the structure a bit to make it easier for students to understand what a required course is. But in fact, I don’t think students will take a different course as a rule.”

Chicago Booth has no set standard for ethical case studies used in the classroom, Messaglia said, but leaves it up to faculty, instead.

According to Messaglia, the business school is disciplined-based, meaning that classes are divided by disciplines such as sociology or psychology, rather than by industries. As a result, she said, professors may use different examples in their lectures, but Chicago Booth “[doesn’t] change required classes based on trends in the economy.”

Other business schools throughout the country are grappling with the ways in which they should respond to the financial crisis.

Writing in Forbes Magazine last year, Dean of the Yale School of Management (SOM) Sharon Oster said that “students must understand that even the narrowest business decision can have wide-ranging consequences.”

According to Elizabeth Stauderman, SOM spokeswoman, several Yale classes discuss the financial crisis.

“Our case writing team is writing a series of cases about the crisis, and many of our faculty are researching and publishing in this area,” she said. A new course called “The Global Macroeconomy” will develop a framework for understanding macroeconomic events in real time, she said.

At Columbia Business School, professor Paul Glasserma led a faculty committee that recommended changing the school’s curriculum to reflect the economic downturn.

“Two major initiatives are now underway, an integrative case on the auto industry cutting across multiple core courses, and a new course in the spring on ‘The Future of Financial Services,’ focusing on new opportunities in the wake of the crisis,” Glasserman said in an e-mail.

While the committee did not recommend creating a new required course in response to recent events, Glasserman said, he believed that Columbia’s mandatory unit on corporate governance is directly related to the crisis.

Ines Hubler, a first-year M.B.A. student at Booth, said she thinks it is less important to have specific courses on the financial crisis than to have teachers in specific subjects address the crisis.

“Nothing is really required at Booth,” Hubler said. “I would hope that students going here would seek out answers from themselves, from their professors, and from speakers. We all have been personally affected by the crisis—for many people the reason they’re here is because they lost their job as a result.”

She said that having a mandatory course on the crisis would suggest that there is one explanation for how the crisis occurred.

“There is no one real answer,” Hubler said, “and if anything I would rather have the option of choosing from multiple explanations.”