With this week’s articles, we revisit the challenges facing business schools in the teaching of ethics.
Are students blind to their ethical blind spots?
Ethics blind spots, which have become a keystone of the emerging behavioural ethics literature, are essentially biases, heuristics, and psychological traps. Though students typically recognise that ethical challenges exist in the world at large, they often fail to see when they are personally prone to ethics blind spots.
This creates an obstacle for ethics education—inducing students to act in an ethical manner when faced with real challenges. Grounded in the social psychology literature, the authors suggest that a meta-bias, the bias blind spot, should be addressed to facilitate student recognition of real-world ethical dilemmas and their own susceptibility to biases.
The authors present a roadmap for an ethics education training module, developed to incorporate both ethics blind spots and self-perception biases. After completing the module, students identified potential ethical challenges in their real-world team projects and reflected on their susceptibility to ethical transgressions. Qualitative student feedback supports the value of this training module beyond traditional ethics education approaches.
Lessons for management and ethics educators include (a) the value of timely, in-context ethics interventions and (b) the need for student self-reflection (more so than emphasis on broad ethical principles). Future directions are discussed.
Kathleen A. Tomlin, Matthew L. Metzger, Jill Bradley-Geist, Tracy Gonzalez-Padron. 2017. Are Students Blind to Their Ethical Blind Spots? An Exploration of Why Ethics Education Should Focus on Self-Perception Biases.
Journal of Management Education, 41(4), 539 – 574.
Teaching empathy and ethical decision making in business schools
Researchers in behavioural ethics seek to understand how individuals respond to the ethical dilemmas in their lives. In any given situation, multiple social and psychological variables interact to influence ethical decision making. The purpose of this article is to explore how one such variable, empathy, affects the ethical decision-making process and to identify specific instructional strategies that both increase empathy and challenge students to consider the role that empathy plays in their own decisions.
Two learning activities are described. The first requires students to recommend median salaries for several positions in a fictitious company and then use those salaries to create two family budgets, one for an entry-level position and another for the CEO. The second activity measures students’ empathic concern and encourages students to consider the relationship between empathic concern and decision making in business.
Increased awareness of self and others prompts a more deliberate, thoughtful decision-making process when assessing ethical situations.
Diane F. Baker. 2017. Teaching Empathy and Ethical Decision Making in Business Schools.
Journal of Management Education, 41(4), 575 – 598.
Does economics and business education wash away moral judgment competence?
In view of the numerous accounting and corporate scandals associated with various forms of moral misconduct and the recent financial crisis, economics and business programs are often accused of actively contributing to the amoral decision making of their graduates.
It is argued that theories and ideas taught at universities engender moral misbehaviour among some managers, as these theories mainly focus on the primacy of profit-maximisation and typically neglect the ethical and moral dimensions of decision making.
To investigate this criticism, two overlapping effects must be disentangled: the self-selection effect and the treatment effect. Drawing on the concept of moral judgment competence, the authors empirically examine this question with a sample of 1773 bachelor’s and 501 master’s students. Results reveal that there is neither a self-selection nor a treatment effect for economics and business studies. Moreover, the results indicate that—regardless of the course of studies—university education in general does not seem to foster students’ moral development.
Katrin Hummel, Dieter Pfaff and Katja Rost. 2018. Does Economics and Business Education Wash Away Moral Judgment Competence?
Journal of Business Ethics, 150(2), 559–577.
Business schools at the crossroads?
Some business schools have come under considerable criticism for what observers see as their complicit involvement in the corporate scandals and financial crises of the last 15 years. Much of the discussion about changes that schools might undertake has been focused on curriculum issues.
However, revisiting the curriculum does not get at the root cause of the problem. Instead, it might create a new challenge: the risk of decoupling the discussion of the curriculum from broader issues of institutional purpose.
In this article, the authors argue that the most pressing need facing business schools is not to teach new courses to be responsive to social demands and stay relevant. Instead, it is to revisit their basic mission—the principles and beliefs on which they were founded—and then to re-evaluate their curriculum design choices in this light. The authors contrast the Spartan and Athenian educational paradigms as a way of shedding light on the nature of a coherent response.
Maria Jose Murcia, Hector O. Rocha and Julian Birkinshaw. 2018. Business Schools at the Crossroads? A Trip Back from Sparta to Athens.
Journal of Business Ethics, 150(2), 579–591.
What makes a business ethicist?
This article discusses the transition that business ethics has undergone since its start essentially as a philosophical sub-discipline of applied ethics. Today, business ethics—as demonstrated by four examples of gatekeepers—is a well-established field in general management, and increasingly business scholars without a “formal” background in philosophy are entering the scene.
I take this transition to examine an updated positioning of business ethics and offer a proposal to redefine what makes a business ethicist. I suggest taking critical thinking as the common denominator of all business ethics activities beyond the academic silos of various disciplines. In conclusion, by borrowing from the post-colonial theorist Edward Said, this article offers a definition of what makes a business ethicist in the broadest possible sense.
Implications are discussed, including the consequences suggesting that if critical thinking is the common denominator, business ethics-as-business-case logic is not considered a part of business ethics publications (except discussing the ethicality of business ethics-as-business-case), but should be addressed within more instrumental publication outlets of business.
Peter Seele. 2018. What Makes a Business Ethicist? A Reflection on the Transition from Applied Philosophy to Critical Thinking.
Journal of Business Ethics, 150(3), 647–656.