Can Ethics Be Taught? A Panel Weighs In

After a year of global economic turmoil, the question of whether ethics can be taught is still being pondered across the international business school community. This week, Financial Times debates the question: are ethics a personal matter, or can they be taught to business school students?

Here’s a glimpse at some of the opinions highlighted in the FT article.

Rakesh Khurana, professor of leadership development at Harvard Business School:

…Students often arrive with a broad view of business but leave thinking mainly about maximizing shareholder value. They are socially intelligent and skilled. If you introduce ethics classes they often know the “right” answer. The challenge for business schools is to develop a group of people who are self-governing and capable of critical thinking. The only alternative may be a highly regulated environment.

Kai Peters, chief executive of Ashridge Business School:

Can ethics be taught? Yes it can, and yes it should. The whole purpose of education is to help individuals develop their judgment…A discussion of ethics will never make the seven sins disappear. What teaching ethics can do is to make as many people as possible make as thoughtful decisions as possible.

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, Toronto:

…The underlying premise of our courses must be that our world would be a very miserable place if we didn’t have important socially-constructed laws, regulations and norms that constrain and guide our behavior. And as a graduate, their job isn’t personal profit-maximization but rather contribution to that indispensable civil foundation through their business career.

James O’Toole, professor of business ethics at Denver University’s Daniels College of Business:

…When ethics is taught in almost every course as part and parcel of good business practice, students may learn to become virtuous professionals. The problem is that too few business professors see examining the ethical implications of their disciplines as part of their job, or are comfortable dealing with the broader, long-term, and indirect consequences of applying the narrow techniques they teach.

To read more about what each of these participants had to say about teaching ethics at today’s business schools, click here.

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