In a post WorldCom, post Enron world, should colleges be doing more to prepare graduates for what lies ahead in the ‘real world’? It is safe to say that somewhere along the line ethics education has failed within this country. One need look no further than the front page of their morning paper, or the quarterly update of their portfolio, to realize how desperate this situation has become.
Not so long ago businessmen, and women, were looked up to; the title of CEO came with an underlying respect from the employees of an organization, as well as outsiders. It really meant something to hold the highest position within a company. Flash back to today and the title Chief Executive Officer evokes quite a different picture. Type ‘CEO’ into any popular search engine and within 5.8 seconds you will be bombarded with over 300,000 results. Many of which also contain phrases like: crisis, bailout or lawsuit.
In an effort to remedy this situation, Universities have begun to integrate ethics education into their business curriculums, as well as into the regular curriculum for all students. In a study conducted by Angela Hernquist, doctoral candidate from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, 90% of responding institutions indicated that Ethics was part of their curriculum. Over a decade earlier the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy passed the requirement that all licensed Certified Public Accountants complete a four hour, board approved, ethics course (VanZante). This requirement was later supplemented by two hours or ethics courses every three years. Following the Enron, and subsequent Anderson LLP collapses, TSBPA required an additional four hours of ethics every two years beginning January of 2005 (VanZante).
It is certainly nice to hear that things are being done to ensure that graduates leaving their field of study will be better prepared for the workplace, but are we really meant to believe that a five credit course, or a mere four hours can change who a person really is? From personal experience I can confidently say no, the ethics education that I have received in college has done nothing to influence what kind of person I am. A brief rundown of the course syllabus may hold the key as to why I do not feel that I got my money’s worth of ethics. While utilitarianism and other various philosophies may be at the foundation of a great education, what do they really have to do with ethics today? Will I make a better CEO because I understand Ayn Rand?
Time in the classrooms of our Universities would be better spent teaching mathematics, writing, or even psychology. Perhaps if we understood why people behaved unethically we could do something to stop it. One thing is clear; the ethics we are being taught today are failing us. Failing us as students, and as citizens of the world. If we are really to believe that we do not learn ethics until college that what hope is there when nearly 25% of Americans never make it that far (Henry). Are we a nation of heathens running around like a ticking time bomb? I propose that we begin learning ethics much earlier than college, even earlier than grade school. Ethics begin in the home, the community, and the individual.
People are beginning to recognize the need for early ethics education in children, and have started to do something about it. Patti Martin, B.S., M.A., Director of Ethical Education, has opened an ethics course for children ages 2-12. Her program is called Sunday Ethical Education for Kids, or SEEKS. SEEK aims to do what some parents apparently cannot, to instill ethics into the children of the community in one hour segments. SEEK meets once a week, on Sundays naturally, at the University of Missouri Extension Center, in Mid Rivers Missouri. There are no expectations, just the hope that parents will bring their children by to get some much needed guidance on becoming a better person.
Maybe more programs are needed in colleges, or maybe the child ethics courses offered at the University of Missouri are the answer. Whatever that answer may be, one thing is for sure, we haven’t found it yet, and if we do not find it soon we are setting ourselves up for more disaster. I don’t know how the rest of the country feels, but I am not looking forward to a lifetime of paying the high salaries of today’s CEOs in what feels like a never ending stream of corporate bailouts.
Henry, Tamara. “Report: Greater Percent of Americans Educated”. USA Today 6/05/2002
Hernquist, Angela. “A Survey of Ethics Courses in State College and University Curricula”. University of Nevada Las Vegas. February 2005
“Raising Ethical Children”. Mid Rivers Ethical Society. 11/28/2008
VanZante, Neal. “Improving Professional Ethics”. The CPA Journal May 2005