What it does mean is that there are a host of inconsistencies. Some schools require ethics classes; some don't even offer them. And in practice, ethics discussions in subject-area classes may not be comprehensive at all schools. Business Week asked professors how often they talk about ethics in class. "It's rare," Howard Frank, dean of the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, told the magazine.
To put all this in perspective, take a look at the last 30 years. Business scandals aren't new; in fact, they seem to happen every academic generation or so. The 1970s had ITT, the conglomerate that bribed foreign governments. The 1980s had the savings and loan and insider trading debacles. The 1990s had the Internet bubble. These events consumed entire professions, says Steve Feldman, who teaches ethics at Weatherhead, so it's not unusual to see students consumed by the same malaise.
Hand-wringing and self-examination among business schools in the aftermath of these scandals is also part of the cycle, Feldman says. What may be different this time, he says, is that the education system seems to have played a larger role in the disasters than before. More than 100,000 students earned MBAs in 1997-98, the most recent year for which statistics are available, and almost one-quarter of all master's degrees granted that academic year were issued in business administration. That's compared to 18,000 MBAs and 10 percent of master's degrees 30 years ago.
Hence a dean like Penley calling not just for revisions, but a complete reevaluation of how business schools approach ethics.
"There are big global societal issues affecting business schools, and we need to face up to that," he says. "There are corporate governance issues and the credibility of the world markets at stake. People need to look at what happens if world markets collapse because no one has any faith in the credibility of the companies in the market."