INSEAD Profs Debate MBA Oath

Harvard Business School‘s “MBA Oath” caused quite a fuss when it was announced in late May in response to the ethical lapses allegedly spawned by B-schools.

While most applaud the sentiment behind the oath, whose signatories promise to lead professional careers marked with integrity and ethics, INSEAD professors Craig Smith and Theo Vermaelen took part in a debate last week at the school’s Fontainebleau campus over the validity and necessity of such an oath.

Finance professor Vermaelen offers three reasons why MBAs should not sign the Harvard MBA Oath. “I don’t believe that this is a good idea, for three reasons,” Vermaelen writes. “First, some parts of the pledge are inconsistent with fiduciary duties and ethical standards. Second the oath is a misplaced response to the financial crisis. Third, I don’t believe in pledges as an instrument to guide people’s behaviour.”

Meanwhile Smith, a professor of ethics and social responsibility, argues that an oath should form part of a broader initiative to strengthen attention to ethics and values, including greater attention to ethics in program applicant selection criteria, as well as throughout the curriculum. It’s a fascinating debate and well worth the time to read how both sides view this thorny issue.

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