(Today I begin a new aspect of The CQ Project called CQ in Daily Life. These are not polished CQ articles but are quick snippets pertaining to life. I hope you enjoy!)
Those of us who’ve earned our business degree within the past decade have sat through countless lectures, multiple films and (in some cases) entire courses on Business Ethics. And we owe it all to a company called ENRON. For months after the ENRON scandal some folks debated how to punish those who were involved while others pushed to find ways to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. And before the dust had settled many of the biggest firms in the country were vowing to only hire graduates from business schools who offered formal ethical training as a part of their degree program. And thus the ethics ‘gold-rush’ began. All at once universities across the country responded by scrambling together some semblance of a coherent ethics course to cram into their existing programs. I was in my first year of the business program when Business Ethics was added to my curriculum. And I vividly remember the first day of the course because we were issued nothing more than a flimsy paperback textbook (that still cost us the equivalent to a monthly mortgage payment) and some photo-copied Harvard Case Studies to study, write papers and take tests on. We were told that these little scraps of paper and class discussions would help mold us into the type of graduates that companies of the future really wanted.
Earlier this week 200 business students at the University of Central Florida were caught cheating on a test using stolen test-bank answers. Not one or two isolated students—not a group of five or six friends working together… Two-hundred business students! Students (mind you) who’ve all taken their Business Ethics course from shiny hardcover textbooks in elaborately planned curriculum!
A lot of the articles that I’m reading today are talking about how to punish these students. Others are pushing for better security for test bank questions. But truthfully, neither of these are the real answer to the problem of dishonesty on the university or (for that matter) the corporate level. The real answer lies early in life in the home and in the family unit. I’m not saying that students shouldn’t be required to take a course in business ethics—in fact I think that it’s a great idea. However, by the time they’re in college such information should (ideally) only be a review of the moral principles that they’ve already learned at home. By the time college-aged young men and women take these courses they’ve already cemented in the basic concepts of right and wrong that they’ll hold for their entire life. It also doesn’t help that today’s college students were raised in an age where society claims that it wants moral / ethical people yet reinforces Machiavellian-style principles through its media and entertainment. It’s a very damning schizophrenia and one that we’re starting to pay a heavy price for.
I heard the argument from one blogger that technology was to blame for the cheating incident—that kids today were “too smart” and can “easily beat the system” because of their savvy tech-skills. That’s dumb. Technology is no more to blame for these students cheating than McDonald’s is for obesity in America or Smith & Wesson for the country’s crime rate. The REAL problem is a lack of fundamental character values like self-discipline and honesty being taught to our kids as individuals.
Frankly, I have no sympathy for them. For me (and everyone else who’s ever busted their behinds in college to actually learn the material) what these students have done is an insult of the highest degree. Its not innovation. Its not a case of working ‘smarter not harder’. Its theft…plain and simple. My question is: WHY are these students even being given the option of staying in the business program? Doesn’t the University of Central Florida care about its reputation or the reputation of their alumni? If any of us at Clayton State University would have done anything remotely similar to these students then we’d have been out on the curb with marks on our transcripts so big that we’d have to re-enroll in kindergarten to ever get it removed! We would NEVER been allowed to enroll in another business program anywhere in the country! There are some areas in life where a hard line has to be drawn and examples have to be made! To keep its reputation a business school should never choose enrollment dollars over integrity…not if it ever wants its students to succeed in an already competitive job market.
I’m proud to see that the cheaters were caught by some of their peers who wouldn’t tolerate such gross dishonesty. These honest students chose NOT to sit back and watch their school’s reputation (and thus their own) become tarnished by scandal. See, eventually cheaters get caught. And sooner or later those students who cheated would have done so again…only the next time it would be with corporate time/dollars rather than just test points. If I were a corporate recruiter today I would be very interested in considering the 400 honest students for employment. After all, they possessed the means and opportunity to take the self-serving, easy-route in a rigorous upper-level business course–even against tremendous peer pressure but possessed the personal integrity and self-discipline not to. Those students really have what corporate America–no ALL of America needs right now: true character.
I salute them. And I really hope that their school does the right thing and takes out the trash. If not, maybe these students can at least transfer to an institution that would.
11/12/10 – This morning I made some revisions in the above article because I wanted to clarify how terrible dishonesty is in the business environment. Unknown to me on last night’s The Apprentice Donald Trump deals with a similar situation. Listen to his words carefully as he draws the comparison between what’s been wrong in corporate America for the last few years in relation to cheating.
Click HERE to watch the four minute short film.