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by Aman Singh Das | May 13, 2010


In November last year, MBA candidates at three business schools across the country decided to initiate oaths of ethical conduct for all graduating students. While the oaths were student-sponsored, these almost-socialistic self-administrations rang hollow amidst a recession. As I wrote at the time, it spoke of an identity crisis for business schools, which were beginning to look inwards at their curriculum for reasons behind the failed leadership on Wall Street.

Management curricula at business schools have always been the subject of much debate and discussion. It has had to modify and adapt to constantly changing economic demands but 2010 might just be the most game changing yet. As co-blogger on's CSR blog, and Director of the Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship at the Tuck School of Business, Patricia Palmiotto wrote recently, "Students learned these [corporate responsibility] are not simple or insignificant words and if leaders don’t pay attention, then the ice cream dripping down their chins will be the least of their worries." She was referring to a debate between MBA students at Tuck about Goldman Sachs' current situation, which many continue to regard as the poster child for the increasing lack of ethical conduct on Wall Street.

So when the students at the Telfer School of Management (University of Ottawa), Harvard Business School and the Richard Ivey School of Business (University of Western Ontario) decided to administer the aforementioned oaths, they weren't far off from preemptively addressing today's growing debate. Here's what I wrote then:

"Now the same schools are calling for a responsible approach, one that inculcates CSR principles in its teachings and graduates entrepreneurs who want to work for the greater good and not institutional bonuses. How far this will go and whether this is a recessionary self-serving (and therefore, short lived) trend, of course, remains to be seen."

Today, we are well on our way to making core classes on ethics and sustainable business practices a real and relevant part of MBA curricula. While the approach has differed by school—some have made these courses compulsory, others have preferred the electives route—the central concern remains the need for responsible leadership in the marketplace. As I mentioned yesterday while discussing what role, if any, CSR plays today in a job hunt, students are beginning to actively demand their prospective employers to discuss their corporate responsibility (Read MBA graduate Ashley Jablow's appeal), pushing it to the forefront of their job search.

Harvard selecting a professor who has been active in promoting business ethics for a long time to lead its Business School then simply serves as tacit acknowledgment that change is coming. Nitin Nohria, who was one of the propellers for the MBA oath at Harvard, is also known for co-authoring an article for the Harvard Business Review in 2008, in which he wrote that managers had “lost legitimacy” and there was a strong need for a “rigorous code of ethics.” Skeptics of course continue to profess that ethics courses that were initiated after the Enron collapse have failed to fulfill their value proposition.

Along with student demand, all eyes will now be on Mr. Nohria as he pushes forward a curriculum embedded with the core aspects of corporate responsibility: ethical conduct, sustainable business practices, and as he put it, "legitimizing the role of managers" once again. He might not have the economy or the hiring managers on his side, but he certainly has a gradually building momentum toward much-needed change in the marketplace and its leadership. Will businesses continue to be willful outliers in a changing corporate consciousness?

Leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR, and let's make this a discussion.


Filed Under: CSR

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