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Transforming our Students: Teaching Business Ethics Post-Enron

  • Daryl Koehn

Teachers and managers strive to be determining causes, leading those whom we instruct or supervise to act in some ways rather than others. If we are seeking to be causes, then we ought to admit our mission and monitor how well we are doing. Yet, instead of owning up to our failures, we hide behind claims such as “some students are unteachable because their habits are bad,” or “we have little time to affect our students who are being indoctrinated by other business school professors to believe that narrow self-interest does and should rule the world.” Perhaps it is we who have failed our students, not the reverse. Examining our business ethics pedagogy is crucial because regulation is not by itself going to prevent future scandals. This paper presents three structures for teaching business ethics in a liberal arts, transformative way. While no pedagogy comes with a guarantee, these approaches at least have the potential to transform students because they force students to have “some skin in the game.”

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1 For a more extensive discussion of the problems with relying on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to solve or even curtail corporate wrongdoing, see Daryl Koehn, “Eight Reasons Why We Should Not Expect Too Much from Sarbanes-Oxley,” forthcoming in the Chinese academic journal Wenti.

2 David Armstrong, “Tyco to Restate Financial Results,” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2003, A2, A8.

3 Joann S. Lublin and Mark Maremont, “Taking Tyco by the Tail,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2003, B1, B2.

4 Mark Maremont, “Tyco’s Accounting Draws New Criticism by Analyst,” Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2003, online edition. Available at,,SB106029433125377700,00.html?emailf=yes.

5 Erik Portanger, “Banned on Wall Street, But All Right Abroad?” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003, C1, C10.

6 Ibid.

7 Gretchen Morgenson, “Shareholders Will Pick Up the Bill This Time, Too,” New York Times, June 8, 2003, online version. Available at

8 Monica Langley, “Big Companies Get Low Marks for Lavish Executive Pay,” Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2003, C1, C11.

9 Gretchen Morgenson, “The Rules on Bosses’ Pay Seem to Be Written with Pencil,” New York Times, May 25, 2003.

10 Both quotes are from Neil Westergaard, “The Good, the Bad, and the Sarbanes-Oxley,” Houston Business Journal, week of August 1–7, 2003, 57.

11 Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2003.

12 David Bank and Joann S. Lublin, “On Corporate Boards, Officials from Nonprofits Spark Concern,” Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2003, A1, A10.

13 Kate Kelly and Susanne Craig, “NYSE to Disclose Grasso Pay Among Changes,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003, C1, C5.

14 Daniel Gross, “Contrite Executive Watch, Part 1,” Slate, May 28, 2003.

15 Deborah Solomon, “SEC’s Own Accounting Requires Tightening, Internal Audit Says,” Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2003, A2.

16 Monica Langley, “Want to Lift Your Firm’s Rating on Governance? Buy the Test” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003, A1, A6.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 See the discussion of whistleblowing in Richard DeGeorge, Business Ethics, 5th edition (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999).

20 Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People (New York: Dover Publications, 1999).

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
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