Friday, May 04, 2007

Cheating at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business

Unfortunately, not very surprising. Given the nature of the MBA – it’s a cash cow for the University, and almost no real learning is expected to occur – I suspect that this kind of behavior is pretty prevalent. And let’s not get started on the poisonous academic atmosphere as exemplified by Duke’s Gang of 88.

If you are not working through a technical finance program, you may as well just buy a couple of trendy management books and learn some of the catchphrases. It’s just a credential. At least it’s not as degraded as the Ed.D., but it’s getting close. Might as well just get the degree for the minimum amount of effort.

On a more serious note, by the time you hit graduate school (or college, for that matter), it’s too late for a course or two on ethics to make much of a difference. Especially in a pretty cut and dried area like cheating on an exam, or indulging in accounting fraud. You either learned these lessons at your mother’s knee, or you didn’t.

Are there tricky ethical issues in business that a philosopher or ethical training could help clarify? Sure. Doesn’t seem likely in this case. Indeed, a pragmatist might hold that given the assumed risk / reward calculus, that cheating may be justified. Take a typically ungrounded and disinterested business student, mix with a professor with only the most tenuous hold on, say William James’ notion of the cash value of ideas, and voila! An ethically justified cheater. It’s kind of like the old campfire game – Plato whispers a story to Aristotle, who whispers it to Aquinas, who whispers it to Kant, etc., etc., etc., … And eventually it winds up in with some current professor (who might not even be a philosopher), who in turn whispers it to someone who doesn’t want to listen. Sounds like a recipe for success.

But Kudos to Duke for at least attempting to clean house. Maybe these folks will learn the lesson that Shi Huang won’t. Expulsions and censure are very practical, utilitarian methods with a proven track record.