Who is king in the field of business ethics?
According to business ethics scholars, the leading MBA programs in business ethics are at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
In the survey of academics, published in the journal Business & Society, Darden received 57 votes and Wharton School received 56 votes — a statistical tie. The next highest vote total was 24, received by Harvard Business School. In all, 15 different schools were ranked (see table on next page). The survey was sent to 320 business ethics professors from across the world.
The article — by Chad Albrecht of Utah State University, Jeffrey A. Thompson of Brigham Young University and Jeffrey L. Hoopes of the University of Michigan — recognizes Darden and Wharton as “clear leaders in the field of business ethics,” which “share the pinnacle of the field with no close contenders.”
For both Wharton and Harvard, it’s a somewhat awkward honor. In the past year, two Wharton MBAs have plead guilty to securities fraud and another, hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, has been convicted of fraud and conspiracy. All three were caught up in the biggest insider trading case to hit Wall Street in many years.
Also ensnared in the mess are three Harvard Business School MBAs, including one of HBS’ most famous alums, Rajat Gupta, the former managing director of McKinsey & Co., and Adam Smith, a former Morgan Stanley banker, who pleaded guilty last year and testified against Rajaratnam. Gupta goes to trial on the insider trading charges in April of this year. Of course, teaching ethics is different than assuring that MBA graduates behave ethically when they later enter the business world. “We try to do all we can at HBS to convey the importance of integrity and accountability to our students and will keep striving to do more, Harvard Dean Nitin Nohria had told PoetsandQuants when the insider trading charges first came to light.
Darden Professor R. Edward Freeman, one of the world’s leading scholars in ethics, said he attributes his school’s prominence in the field to three factors: a long-standing emphasis on ethics at the University of Virginia and the Darden School; an approach that both recognizes ethics as a core discipline of business and also integrates ethics across the School’s MBA curriculum; and the continuing innovation of faculty at the School.
“Darden was an early leader in the field,” said Freeman in a statement. “We were the first top MBA program to have a required and graded course in business ethics. When the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics was founded in 1966, this was also a first at a major institution. Under the leadership of Darden Professor Alec Horniman, its first director, the Olsson Center gained prominence as a world-class research center in the field.”
The current director of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics, Professor Andrew Wicks, says that the Ruffin Lecture Series held at Darden helped to build and sustain the field of Business Ethics before it was such a widely held discipline. “Darden really helped to foster a broader community of business ethics scholars over the last 25 years,” added Wicks in a statement. “The Ruffin Lectures brought current and future leaders in the field together in one place — they created enormous value for the faculty of the Darden School and for faculty at other institutions, especially those that were on the fence about the lasting importance of the discipline.”
Others view Darden’s strength in ethics as a springboard for further innovation in business education. “The public’s expectations of business continue to evolve and it is a given that emerging business leaders will have unprecedented challenges and opportunities with respect to social issues,” says Dean Krehmeyer, executive director of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics. The Institute, which is housed at Darden, was formed in partnership with Business Roundtable — an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with more than $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 14 million employees.