MBA Ethics Oath Draws Handful of GSM Signers
Future business leaders vow to do the right thing
The notion of “business ethics” seems so oxymoronic after Wall Street’s recent shenanigans that an MBA oath of ethics, adopted by management and business schools in the last year, was mercilessly skewered shortly after its inception by The Daily Show. Among BU’s Graduate School of Management students and alumni, just 14 have signed the oath, which originated at the Harvard Business School. (Told by a professor that business schools have taught ethics for decades, the Daily Show interviewer earnestly asks, “Would you say you’re good at your job?”)
The Daily Show’s antics might not be amusing Santiago Gomez (GSM’11, GRS’11), one of the GSM students and alumni who’ve signed the oath. When he read that Harvard Business School students had drafted a voluntary pledge of moral conduct, Gomez heard echoes of the values statement he had admired at McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm where he worked before attending GSM. He believes the oath makes sense, particularly given the number of students at the school not looking to get rich.
“Almost a third of current MBA students are interested in nonprofit or social venture careers,” he says. “A lot of my peers are taking nonpaid internships because they want to help and support new ventures or local nonprofits that do not have the resources to pay for them.” Gomez himself hopes to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or another international group promoting social and economic development.
Its Ivy League authors drafted the oath a year ago, when the financial crisis and headlines about the crimes and misdeeds of Wall Street’s Bernie Madoff and others had everyone from MBAs to liberal arts types wondering if the industry could be rescued from the soiled hands of the corrupt. Since then, almost 3,000 signatories from business schools around the country have taken the oath, which obliges signers, among other things, to “refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.” Two of the Harvard creators turned out a book explaining their brainchild.
The MBA Council, GSM’s student government, held a town hall–style forum about the oath last November. “We discussed several options, including pledging to the current oath, creating our own, agreeing to it at Commencement, or doing nothing,” says Tyler Altrup (GSM’10), council president. Facing “tepid student interest,” he says, the council settled for publicizing the oath and letting students sign individually if they wished.
Why more GSM students haven’t signed depends on whom you ask. Gomez attributes the anemic response to ignorance about the oath’s existence, even after last November’s informational get-together. “I am certain that if someone was to create a BU chapter, we will have hundreds of signers immediately,” he says.
But it may be that students, whatever their values, don’t see the need for an oath. “I just don’t think it’s that salient one way or the other for a lot of people,” says Douglas T. Hall, the Morton H. and Charlotte Friedman Professor in Management. For students, “keeping their everyday actions aligned with their values is more important to them than a formal oath.”
Hall nevertheless considers the pledge a worthy springboard for discussion. “Values and ethics are tremendously important for our MBA students,” he says.
Gomez thinks that GSM could do more in this area. The school has a mandatory ethics course, but it focuses more on laws than on ethical dilemmas confronting business, he says. “I believe that BU has still a long way to go at changing the curriculum to reflect this societal need.”
Rich Barlow can be reached at email@example.com Comments