Are Business Skills Taking a Back Seat to Ethics?

In a bid to stand out from its peers, George Washington University Business School plans to overhaul its graduate program this year with a major emphasis in ethical business practices and globalization. But will future MBAs value a new emphasis on ethics, or are they in it only for the money?

The trend toward incorporating ethical business practices and globalization into the curriculum is not necessarily new. However, rather than address the concept as an added course or workshop taught in the philosophy department, GW administrators say they are taking it further than any other school by infusing the entire curriculum with these principles. For example, when studying supply chain management, they will talk about what would happen if a supplier in China were using child labor.

“We really took a huge risk,” says Murat Tarimcilar, associate dean for graduate programs. “When we say we really would like people who are committed to be ethical leaders, we may be making the applicant pool very small. For many MBA students, the driving factor is the money. But we thought we had a responsibility, as a university, to really work on their character, as well.”

After a series of corporate scandals several years ago, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) concluded that a “crisis in business ethics” had occurred, and that schools should take a more active role in teaching students how to make decisions based on values and integrity, AACSB’s John Fernandes says.

“The market may not reward us for this,” says Tarimcilar, “but I hope it’s the right thing to do.”

Judging by many of the Washington Post’s reader comments, this shift in focus will be a hard sell. HjacobsESq., past president GWU B School Alumni Assn., says “A Business School should be to train young men and women to be good (read successful) business men/women. If there is the need to infuse this curriculum so thoroughly with the “touchy feely” ethical component, perhaps the school has been admitting the wrong type of student in the first place.”

LongTimeRez, meanwhile, thinks “You have to give GW credit. The school is so adept at Public Relations puffery that it has bought its own B.S. When your organization is built on the principles of ‘might makes right,’  ‘unfettered growth,’ and ‘manifest destiny,’ you have no ethics.”

What do you think? Should B-schools infuse their curriculums with an ethics component, or get back to teaching the basics of business skills and leave the ethics to the philosophy department?

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