Business Schools Blamed For VW Ethical Lapse & Bad ‘Bro’ Price Hikes

Emory University ethicist Edward Queen

Emory University ethicist Edward Queen

While Queen sees what may be the start of a shift away from the dominance of the profit motive in business toward recognition of corporate responsibility as an important value, he believes that in B-schools, students are generally still coming away with a belief that return on investment trumps all other values. And within the business programs, that persistent ideology makes it difficult for students to swim against the flow – taking an alternate view can lead students to feel alone and alienated, Queen claims.

Business school can also breed the sense of entitlement that Shkreli so shamelessly embodies, Queen says. “When you get people who are constantly told that they’re bright and they’re special and they’re brilliant, you totally cultivate a form of a person who thinks they’re deserving of everything they get. They think they deserve the BMW at 26, they’re pathological narcissists,” Queen says.

“All their lives these kids get stroked, they get told that they’re important, they get told that they are brilliant, and on and on and on, and I know they’re none of the above because I’ve taught them. I don’t want to blame business schools for the reality, I just think that they play a role in exacerbating it when they could perhaps play a much better role in minimizing it.”


Back in the ‘80s, business schools responded to concerns over corporate misconduct by starting to bring more ethics-related education into their programming. Harvard Business School and the New York University Stern School were among the first top B-schools to impose mandatory ethics classes.

Harvard Business School professor Rakesh Khurana - Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard Business School professor Rakesh Khurana – Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Between 2005 and 2009, accredited business schools worldwide had doubled the number of ethics-related courses, research by Copenhagen Business School professor Andreas Rasche and University of Hamburg business ethics professor Dirk Gilbert concluded. However, the researchers found that 75% of those courses were electives, and that inclusion of ethics in class material varied widely between disciplines. Rasche and Gilbert called for more mandatory ethics courses, and stronger integration of ethical debates into disciplines such as accounting and finance.

The University of Virginia Darden School’s Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics in 2007  issued a report calling for ethics to be integrated B-school curricula as a “core and fundamental business discipline,” and that ethics content should be included in all other business disciplines.

In the wake of the financial crisis, Joel Podolny, former dean of the Yale School of Management and former professor at Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, attacked business education for doing “little, or nothing, to foster responsibility and accountability.” Podolny, who now runs Apple University, the tech giant’s in-house training facility, presented in a 2009 Harvard Business Review article three areas in which MBA programs were failing to train students to behave decently. B-schools teach leadership as “setting the vision and framing an agenda” rather than focusing on details, Podolny argues. “Students are convinced that nitty-gritty work can be done without consciously considering factors such as values and ethics,” he writes. Also, he writes, B-schools promote the idea that the benefit of an MBA degree can be measured in terms of the additional salary it brings, a notion reinforced by rankings based on graduates’ salaries. And B-schools had, by that point, shown no contrition over “the harm their graduates do,” and had not made curriculum changes to prevent future bad behavior, he writes.