Amid economic worries, recent studies have claimed that business school students cheat more than students in other schools, adding yet another concern to the business world.
Rutgers University Business School professor Donald McCabe conducted two different studies, one of which, published in 2006, surveyed 54 colleges in the U.S. and Canada during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years. This study found that MBA students cheat more than graduate students in any other field. The other study, yet to have been published, focused on undergraduates from the fall of 2002 to the spring of 2008. McCabe said he found similar results for undergraduates in that study.
“I hate to say [business school students cheat more] because I teach business students, but I think it’s something about the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of field. They have the bottom-line mentality,” he said. “There’s a bigger reward for the risk for business students.”
cCabe, who has spent 19 years studying undergraduate and graduate students across the country, has surveyed 170,000 students at 165 colleges and universities and 18,500 faculty members at 115 institutions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. McCabe said that he was not surprised by these recent results and added that he believes ethics among students in general is changing but not necessarily for the better.
“What’s changing with the Internet is that students can more easily convince themselves that they can borrow what isn’t theirs. They’re convincing themselves that it’s OK,” he said. “Cheating in school is a reflection of students’ values, and they’ve been deteriorating over time.”
That deterioration of values could carry over into the business world as students graduate and move on, McCabe said. He added that business schools like Georgetown’s have had to adjust to counteract that cheating.
“You look at Georgetown’s policy today, and it’s different than what it was six, seven or eight years ago,” McCabe said.
Deputy Dean of the undergraduate and graduate components of the McDonough School of Business, Ricardo Ernst, said he disagrees with McCabe’s studies when it comes to MSB students.
“If anything, I would argue that [students in] the business school would have less reason to cheat where we teach ethics and where we study the consequences of cheating at a larger scale,” he said.
George Brenkert, director of the Georgetown Business Ethics Institute and editor in chief of Business Ethics Quarterly, said that without his own research he would trust McCabe’s survey.
“I know we have had cheating here at Georgetown,” he said. “There’s much more teamwork in other parts of the graduate [business] program, which may give rise to greater opportunities for cheating.”
Brenkert, professor of Social Responsibility of Business, said that it is a positive thing that business students are required to take courses in ethics.
“We assume when people come to Georgetown or another university that they have had an ethics education from their parents, their churches, their synagogues, their mosques or wherever they go,” he said. “There are just many topics that we do not learn about when we grow up with our parents. For example, insider trading, product liability, bribery – talking about those issues is a way of teaching ethics.”
As to whether Georgetown is doing enough to instill ethics in business students, Brenkert said he believes the university could do better.
“I think it could clearly do more,” he said. “We have an integrity code inside most classrooms, but I don’t know to what extent ethics is involved in most classes. I do think we do some good things here. That’s for sure. You’re not going to stop unethical acts in business, but I think it can have a positive effect.”
Graduate business school student Andrew Toussaint (GRD GM) said broader business ethics is rarely discussed in MBA classes, despite professors’ explicit warnings about cheating in their syllabuses. In one case, a professor chose not to give a take-home exam after a student voiced concern about cheating.
“You can talk about the bottom line, but as for whether that is a benefit to society, I don’t feel that’s talked about,” he said.