November 6, 2009

Changing business as usual

The Booth School should require students to take business ethics classes.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the Booth School of Business has instituted a welcome and well-timed change: a new set of courses that focus on business ethics and the practices that precipitated the recession. But Booth should go one step further by requiring that all M.B.A. recipients take at least one course on business ethics.

In most professional programs, required ethics classes are a matter of course. The Law School mandates that all students take a class that meets a “professional responsibility/ethics requirement,” and the Pritzker School of Medicine requires a three-quarter sequence that focuses on doctor–patient relationships and medicine in the context of society. Moreover, other top M.B.A. programs such as Wharton, Harvard, and Kellogg list business and legal ethics as requisite courses. Booth’s curriculum, however, notably lacks an ethics requirement.

Needless to say, Business Ethics 101 would not have prevented Bernie Madoff from setting up a Ponzi scheme. But for the vast majority of businesspeople who are committed to behaving ethically, these courses can help them recognize when complex practices become morally questionable. In addition, a class that invites the future leaders of the business world to think about ethical dilemmas confronting managers and corporations can help create more reflective, independent-minded graduates. By offering business ethics courses as electives, Booth’s administrators have already shown they recognize these benefits.

As one of the top M.B.A. programs in the country, the Booth School attracts students from all over the world, and its curriculum serves as a model for other schools. For this reason, making a business ethics course mandatory at Booth would have effects beyond our Chicago campus, in addition to preparing our graduates for the complexities of the business world.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.