Business ethics has been a hot topic in the news recently. With questions regarding options back-dating and CEOs reaching record pay levels, business schools have felt increasing responsibility to impart a responsibility to “do the right thing” to their students. The recent Duke MBA (Fuqua School of Business) cheating scandal, where 34 students were found to have cheated on a take-home exam, raises the question of whether or not schools are indeed instilling these values into their students.
It will be five years in June since I received my MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. The Enron scandal occurred during my business school stint, so you can only imagine the amount of time and energy we spent discussing business ethics. What I found is that business ethics is difficult, if not impossible, to teach, since our moral bases are mostly formed by the time we hit our twenties and thirties, which is the age of most business students. However, when I heard about the Duke MBA cheating scandal, the focus on teamwork and collaboration that I had experienced during my time in MBA made me think – this could easily happen at any MBA school in the country, if working together on a take-home test is considered to be cheating.
Collaboration was encouraged, if not demanded, during my time in business school. One of our first MBA tasks was to integrate ourselves into a pre-assigned work group, with which we would be required to complete numerous projects and assignments with during our time in school. In fact, there were few classes where we didn’t work in groups.
One would think MBA students would be competitive, rarely helping one another with coursework. My experience at the University of Pittsburgh was exactly the opposite – students almost always worked together to solve problems and study for exams. It was not uncommon to see rooms full of students working through the night to come up with the answers for the latest Finance assignment or to study for the upcoming Accounting exam. We rarely, if ever, had take-home tests. One reason for this may have been that our faculty did not want to tempt us – we were expected to work together constantly, how could we not work together on an open-book test that we could work on at home?
I don’t know anyone who attends the Duke MBA program, so I don’t know firsthand how teamwork and collaboration is encouraged at Duke. The Duke MBA website preaches that the Fuqua School of Business is a place where “the faculty, in combination with your talented peers, will stretch your mind and encourage you to approach the study and practice of business from a new and diversified perspective.” However, if the Duke MBA program is anything like the MBA program that I encountered, then you have to wonder whether this Duke MBA program cheating scandal is a scandal at all.
C.M. Paulson is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to receiving her MBA from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business, Ms. Paulson worked for almost ten years for two Fortune 100 companies in a variety of analytical and management roles.