Ethics is a topic that is widely discussed among professions, especially accountants. This research paper allows students to see the value in research and skills accountants need to succeed which is not provided in other courses which focus mainly in the numerical aspects of the accounting profession. This literature review will reveal findings from secondary research to determine if ethics can be taught and also, assuming that it can be, what are the most effective ways to teach ethics? Many articles will be reviewed and analyzed to determine the solution to these questions. However, solutions may not be the best word to use as opinions tend to differ regarding ethics. Regardless, this literature review will bring to light what researchers have previously found.
Smith, L. M. (2003). A fresh look at accounting ethics. Accounting Horizons, 17(1), 47-49. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Smith (2003) indicated that a civil society would collapse if ethical values were not present among civilization. The article quotes Theodore Roosevelt when he stated "to educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society." (Smith, 2003; p.48) Smith mentions that fame and fortune do not constitute inner-peace, but rather a life of integrity and nobility. For a company to be successful society needs to have trust in the company and this trust is the result of ethical behaviour previously displayed. Society will hire companies whom they trust to complete services for them; therefore, having an ethical background is extremely beneficial and this can be verified by the Enron collapse as society lost complete trust in them. I selected this article because this article clearly indicates the need for society to have ethical values and to educate others regarding these values.
O'Leary, C. C. (2009). An empirical analysis of the positive impact of ethics teaching on accounting students. Accounting Education, 18(4/5), 505-520. doi:10.1080/09639280802532158
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O'Leary (2009) informs reader that acting ethical revolves around consistently practicing ethical behaviour. The article states that ethics are first embedded at home but are influenced by the environment around us, such as peers and school. O'Leary indicates that even if a student is very ethical upon completion of school, this could change during their career depending on the ethics of others employed at the organization. It has also been noted that students who were deemed ethical through high positive scores on ethical tests can act unethically. Some interesting facts highlighted from O'Leary's research indicated that "50% of male and 25% of female students indicated a willingness to accept a bribe if there was no risk of being caught... only the risk of being caught appeared to reduce unethical tendencies, not the nature of the act." (O'Leary, 2009; p.507) The primary research conducted in this article is to determine if teaching ethics is effective. The sample consisted on 155 final year accounting students who are studying auditing and was for a duration of six weeks. The participants would attend lectures regarding ethics during these six weeks. Five scenarios were presented to the sample prior and post of lectures and the participants were to select a response out of five possible responses for each scenario. The lectures were conducted in three various forms to also indicate which method was superior for teaching ethics. The first form was a lecture/tutorial and participants were required to read their text and answer questions; the second form consisted of lecture but they also had to through a ethics-training case study though an interactive computer based program using a six-step model to solve an ethical dilemma; the last form involved getting in groups of three students and preparing a write up regarding two ethical scenarios. The survey completed by the participants indicated that a combination of all three techniques was beneficial as appose to only one technique.
Results also indicated participants selected the more ethical response for all five scenarios of which four where statistically significantly improved after completing the lectures on ethics. This article was selected as it relates directly to the questions imposed for this research paper.
Henderson, V. E. (1988). Can business ethics be taught? Management Review, 77(8), 52. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Henderson (1988) posses an interesting question in regards to teaching ethics. He ponders whether or not teaching ethics and those ethical values taught remain with the student upon completion of the course. The article indicates that people tend to believe that ethical values must be embedded into an individual not later than the age of five. If the values are embedded before then, that individual will behave ethically throughout their lives. However, his opinions differ. I selected this article as Henderson's belief coincide with the belief that ethics can be taught as he states it is "a never-ending process of refining, negotiating, and responding to multiple constituents with varying expectations." (Henderson, 1988; p.53)
Jones, T. M. (1989). Can business ethics be taught? empirical evidence. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 8(2), 73. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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Jones (1989) indicate that ethics is currently taught among respected business schools, such as Harvard Business School, but this does not prove that ethics can be taught. The article quotes Malcolm Forbes:
"It's quite a bit too late to start teaching ethics to people at the graduate school level. Those there have come to hone their skills at making the bottom line ever greater black instead of red. The most compelling argument for ethics in these circumstances is to prove that crime does not pay. To make that case might take a disproportionate amount of teaching time." (Jones, 1989; p.74)
However, this is only one opinion among many. Jones also discusses past research regarding "the effect of 'interventions' on the moral development of individuals." The results indicated that 25 out of 55 studies showed considerable positive results from these interventions. Other noteworthy results were that peer discussion and moral dilemmas were more effective than academic courses. Interventions that were 4-28 weeks were effective compared to that of short-term interventions ranging 0-3 weeks. From best to worst, the respondents that were most responded to the interventions were: adults, college students, high school students, and middle school students. After reviewing previous research completed, Jones conducted his own study. He intended to determine if business students exposed to an ethics module briefly will be more moral than those who are not exposed to the module and also will business students who take a business course will be more moral after than before the course. Results from this study indicates that business students who took part in a 10-week course showed significant improvement in moral development. However, the results from exposing students briefly to ethics did not fare as well. This article indicates that ethics can be taught but it needs to be conducted over several weeks to be effective. I selected this article as Jones had completed research that I thought is relevant to the topic of this paper regarding whether or not ethics can be taught and how to best teach it.
Leung, P. P., & Cooper, B. J. (1994). Ethics in accountancy: a classroom experience. Accounting Education, 3(1), 19. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
This article discusses research completed in Hong Kong to determine if ethics could be taught. The research concluded that teaching ethics is effective. The methods of teaching ethics in Hong Kong consisted of a combination of activities including lectures, guest speakers, class discussion, debates, and presentations. The class was three hours a week which lasted for one year. It is stated that teaching ethics indicates the need for students to rationalize a situation when it is ambiguous. The article outlines some drawbacks when teaching ethics the first being the relationship between legality and ethics. If something is legal, does that also mean it is ethical? The next dilemma is the philosophical perspective of teaching ethics which includes topics such as moral reasoning. What about topics such as insider trading that do not get touched under philosophy? The next was mentioned before, but it is the reluctantly for professors to teach ethics as they are not trained directly to do so. I selected this article because it provides another example supporting the fact that ethics can be taught.
Kerr, D. S., & Smith, L. (1995). Importance of and approaches to incorporating ethics into the accounting classroom. Journal of Business Ethics, 14(12), 987-995. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Research has indicated that ethics is currently being taught through a variety of ways which include: text books, case problems, videotape presentations, novels, various articles. Some of these have been mentioned previously in the literature review. From an analysis of the variety of ways ethics is being taught, Kerr and Smith indicate that students respond more effectively through innovative teaching techniques. 244 university students were also approached, through a survey, regarding the teaching of ethics and they have indicated that they are looking for and need assistance in ethical/moral direction. Therefore, students who are interesting and willing to learn will tend to benefit more than those who are just completing the course because, for example, it is a requirement. Students have also indicated that they realize the importance of ethics and the deficiency of ethics creates a negative view on relating professions, especially accountants. Lack of ethics also hurts society as a whole. This article was selected as it discusses the best ways to teach ethics to students.
Duska, R. F. (1991). What the point of a business ethics course? Business Ethics Quarterly, 1(4), 335-354. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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Reasons provided for indicating that business ethics courses are useless are analyzed in this article. The first reasoning is in Kristol's op-ed piece which states that executives already know right from wrong without be taught. The articles rebuttal to this is that executives may know right from wrong but they may not be aware of the consequences of their actions. Also, the piece indicates that executives know right from wrong but do they always know? The second reason critiqued is by Michael Levin who claims ethics cannot be taught but rather learned through training. The rebuttal to this is that education in ethics would be considered training and training is not the only way to enhance morals. The last reason analyzed is that ethical knowledge is impossible so it cannot be taught. This is rebutted in more detail which discredits the accusation that ethical knowledge is impossible. I selected this article because it provides theories of why an ethics course is useless but then also provides faults in those theories to indicate that teaching ethics is effective.
Felton, E. L., & Sims, R. R. (2005). Teaching business ethics: targeted outputs. Journal of Business Ethics, 60(4), 377-391. doi:10.1007/s10551-004-8206-3
Early into this article, it states that an investment banker, Michael Lissack, sent an email to the Academy of Management persuading them to come to the conclusion that business school are for the most part at fault for "the current crisis in corporate America marked by evidence of fraud and greed." (Felton & Sims, 2005; p.377) Apparently, this is not the only accusation made against business schools as others believe that these schools are at fault for not producing more ethical/moral graduates. Felton and Sims also emphasizes that there is no one way to teach ethics and they also state that there is no best way to teach it. Similar to a previous article included in this literature review, they report that integrating ethical issues into real life situations is very beneficial for teaching ethics. They also emphasize having class discussions and allowing students to defend their views when in conversation with other classmates. In order for this to succeed, professors need to develop a comfortable environment that allows students to feel at ease sharing their thoughts. An interesting suggestion they suggest is to not have the professor provide an ending summary of the "correct answer" as students tend to think what the professor says is what is correct, when in fact; there may not be a correct answer. Instead, they suggest a student provide a summary if a summary is needed. Bringing in external speakers may also be beneficial to speak about real life situations and possibly situations that they have had to experience. This article has many suggestions to improve the process of teaching ethics. I selected this article, again, because it relates directly to my topic.
Oddo, A. R. (1997). A framework for teaching business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(3), 293-297. doi:10.1023/A:1017951729585
I selected this article because it deals with how ethics should be taught. Should ethics is taught as a separate courses or integrated into other business courses? This study reports that students do not link knowledge obtained from a separate ethics course to their other business courses. He states that "the ethics course, in a sense, is just 'out there,' and ethical principles are not applied to business problems in business courses." (Oddo, 1997; p.293) The article also indicates that some professors may be anxious teaching ethics and they are not directly trained to do so. Oddo stresses that professors should not feel uncomfortable teaching ethics within their current courses and this allows students to apply this in current business situations/cases. The article then goes through various frameworks for teaching ethics such as normative theories, Vincentian tradition, professional association codes, corporate codes, and lastly, personal values. Oddo concludes that ethics should be incorporated into other business courses and by getting students to relate their personal values to resolve the ethical dilemma.
Mitchell, J. M., & Yordy, E. D. (2010). Cover it: a comprehensive framework for guiding students through ethical dilemmas. Journal of Legal Studies Education, 27(1), 35-60. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
This article again references previous research completed for both for and against whether or not ethics can be taught. It references work completed by professors at Harvard Business School and an opposing view from a professor from Louisiana State University. At Harvard, the professors believed that it is definitely possible to teach ethics as students are at the best stage in their life to determine right from wrong. On the other hand, Professor Waples from Louisiana determined through meta-analysis of business ethics instruction that it is not effective. Mitchell and Yordy (2010) indicate that those who believe that ethics can be taught think the COVER model is very beneficial. The COVER model is a "decision-making tool in law and philosophy that invites users to analyze the ethical dilemma from a number of perspectives and use the results of the analyses to make a decision that they are comfortable defending to themselves, the media, the shareholders, and their supervisors." (Mitchell & Yordy, 2010; p.38) The article goes into depth regarding the COVER model indicating each step. However, the article does indicate that teaching ethics is extremely important but the method of doing so differs. The article identifies various additional methods of teaching ethics such as a six step-like model concentrating on Sartrean Existentialism as the only philosophy that is needed to make an informed decision. Triple Font Theory (TFT) tries to get the student to assess the moral end of the action, the intention and consequences of the action. Baseball diamond analogy which gets the student to obtain facts at home plate, at first base the student find alternatives, at second base they apply various ethical theories, at third base they consider the decision maker's views of the world, and finally make a decision, ending at home plate. Again, there is no explicit right or wrong way to teach ethics; different professors will use different methods.