GWU Adds Ethical Focus To Business Grad School

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

George Washington University Business School is overhauling its graduate program this year and says it is taking a chance: Will future MBAs value a new emphasis on ethics, or are they in it only for the money?

The school will announce today that it is transforming its curriculum with its current first-year graduate students, emphasizing ethical business practices and globalization. Such trends have been growing throughout U.S. business education. But GW administrators say they are taking it further than any other school, not adding a course or a workshop but infusing the entire curriculum with these principles.

"We really took a huge risk," said Murat Tarimcilar, associate dean for graduate programs. "When we say we really would like people who are committed to be ethical leaders, we may be making the applicant pool very small. For many MBA students, the driving factor is the money. But we thought we had a responsibility, as a university, to really work on their character, as well."

The school also chose a focus that would make its program stand out from other business schools.

Yesterday, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business also announced a major shift toward globalism, with plans to expand its program overseas. Students can study at Duke campuses in St. Petersburg, London, Dubai, New Delhi and Shanghai, and the school will collaborate more with Duke institutes of global health and public policy and the school of the environment.

Twenty years ago, most students would not have been interested in international residencies, said Susan Phillips, dean of George Washington's business school. Now, she said, "business is global, and companies are looking for people willing to travel and perhaps even to relocate to another part of the world. The whole business environment has changed."

There is enormous interest from students in international study and experiences, she said, and the school will require them to, in essence, work as short-term consultants for overseas firms.

Globalism and ethics are important issues at many schools, said John Fernandes of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. He said he is not aware of other schools including both topics in all of their courses.

"Nowadays, there's greater emphasis on building a more socially responsible leader, a leader that cares about the greater good to society, as much as financial return," Fernandes said. "If you look back to the MBA programs of the '80s and '90s, they were producing what we call ROI MBAs -- return on investment," he said of grad students who focused on profits.

But after a series of corporate scandals several years ago, the AACSB concluded that a "crisis in business ethics" had occurred, and that schools should take a more active role in teaching students how to make decisions based on values and integrity, Fernandes said.

Phillips said: "I was getting a lot of questions from the press, 'How could these things have happened? What were these people thinking about?' A lot of the people in senior positions [at troubled firms] had MBAs from very prestigious schools." Phillips headed an AACSB task force on ethics education in response to the problems. What the task force found, she said, was that although many schools required students to take an ethics course, it was often seen as theoretical afterthought, taught in the philosophy department and not connected to practical business issues.

At George Washington, the curriculum has been rewritten from scratch, said Tarimcilar, the GWU associate dean.

The school has brought in new professors, and students will be talking about ethical decision-making all the time, he said. For example, when studying supply chain management, they will talk about what would happen if a supplier in China were using child labor.

"The market may not reward us for this," Tarimcilar said, "but I hope it's the right thing to do."

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