The Amoral Never-Never Land of Harvard Business School

The Amoral Never-Never Land of Harvard Business School

After watching the impact of greed and unethical behavior on Wall Street and in c-suites across America, you would think that this year’s graduates of Harvard Business School would have learned an important lesson about the value of responsibility and ethics. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Fewer than one-out-of-five of these newly minted “masters of business administration” were willing to sign The M.B.A. Oath. As The New York Times put it, this voluntary pledge commits them to “refrain from advancing their ‘own narrow ambitions’ at the expense of others.”

In these days and times, that’s hardly an inappropriate statement, yet more than 80% of the HBS Class of 2009 didn’t feel obliged to make it. One can only conclude, therefore, that they would rather follow in the footsteps of allegedly criminal executives, such as Bernie Madoff, Dr. William McGuire (UnitedHealth Group) and Sholom Rubashkin (Agriprocessors, Inc.), and those who were merely obscenely greedy, such as Maurice Greenberg (AIG), Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers) and Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide).

These new MBAs may think that their good behavior is assumed, but it’s not. Survey after survey has revealed the declining status of business executives. They are now among the least admired and most distrusted people on the planet. So, those who refused to sign the HBS pledge were either naïve or unethical. Or, maybe they were both.

But it’s not entirely their fault. Believe it or not, the HBS oath is the product of a student-led effort. The school, itself, and its faculty played no role in its development. So much for shaping the character of the world’s future business leaders. There have been some new course offerings at Harvard—driven largely by student demand—but the school remains where it and many other business schools have always been—in the amoral never-never land that teaches profits as the sole definition of success in capitalism.

What’s to be done about such a grotesque form of pedagogy? First, let’s applaud the students who did sign the pledge. We need more like them in corporate America. Second, let’s celebrate the business schools who are shaping values as well as business strategies, institutions like Columbia Business School and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

And finally, let’s deny all state and federal taxpayer money to any business school which doesn’t have a code of ethics and require every graduate AND faculty member to sign it. It won’t change human nature, but it will create a new level of expectation for today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter,
    Your Blog article reminds me of a book I read recently…’Skulls and Bones.’ The Ivy League secret societies.

    Seriously, the Harvard B.S. Ethics Oath was a step in the right direction. –B.S. is an abbreviation for biz-school– Seems as though our 2009 HBS MBAs were thinking of their future.

    By signing the oath, they risked political assassination. How? By having to explain the conflict between their signed oath statement and {possible} future unethical action(s). — eResumes4Vips