2002 was the “Enron Semester” for management professors across the
United States. Rarely are so many concepts illustrated so compellingly
by current events. One aspect of these events deserves special attention
from business schools: Enron executives were paid multimillion-dollar
bonuses for achieving stock price and profit goals. It is highly
likely that these targets were reached only by resorting to the
questionable practices that have devastated the corporation.
In the same way that business organizations may encourage misconduct
when they reward bottom-line success achieved through deception,
professors may encourage high grades at any price when they ignore
academic dishonesty. When dishonesty occurs in the classroom, it
is called cheating. When it occurs in the business world, it may
be called competitiveness. But the only real difference between
the two forms of dishonesty is timing.
Most students cheat. Studies show that academic dishonesty is an
institutionalized part of life at colleges and universities in the
United States. For business educators, the news is even more dismal:
In a key survey of students at 31 highly selective U.S. colleges
and universities, respondents planning business careers were more
likely to engage in academically dishonest behavior than students
in any other occupational category. Frequent headlines revealing
corporate ethical lapses suggest that many business students fail
to outgrow their duplicitous ways.
Since the late 1980s, heightened awareness of the ethical challenges
raised by globalization, environmental concerns, downsizing, diversity,
and other factors has generated a great deal of discussion in business
schools about the teaching of leadership, ethics, and corporate
responsibility. We debate, for example, the merits of covering ethics
in a specific course versus integrating ethical analysis throughout
Yet most of us—institutions as well as individuals—shrink from confronting
students who cheat. In the safety of our classrooms, in the company
of deferential students, we analyze and propose courses of action
in response to ethical dilemmas posed in hypothetical cases. What
hypocrites we must seem when we then turn our backs on academic
dishonesty. What message does our passivity convey about the importance
of ethical considerations in business decision making?
in 1991, a senior in Syracuse University’s School of Management
surveyed her peers about academic integrity as part of her honors
thesis research. The results revealed high levels of involvement
in academically dishonest behaviors. Not a single professor, however,
formally charged a student with cheating that year.
Galvanized by the survey results, students, faculty, staff, and
administrators worked together to develop a new policy and new procedures.
We hoped to encourage faculty to adopt strategies to reduce opportunities
for cheating in their classes, and to use the new procedures to
respond to academic dishonesty when it occurred. A follow-up study
indicates that, with institutional support, improvements in students’
academic integrity and faculty willingness to confront cheating
can be achieved.
The next generation of business and government leaders is sitting
in today’s business school classrooms. Management educators are
uniquely positioned to model high ethical expectations to these
future decision-makers, both through attitudes and actions. Setting
high expectations for academic integrity gives business schools
a critical opportunity to model the ethical principles they teach.
It is irrational to expect an individual who has been tacitly permitted
to cheat in business school to limit himself or herself to ethical
means of achieving career success. To the extent that we subtly
communicate tolerance for dishonesty by not confronting cheaters,
we bear responsibility for our students’ dishonesty in their careers.
Business schools must strive for a culture where students accept
responsibility for their own work and refuse to tolerate cheating
by their peers. Faculty must respond to academic dishonesty when
it occurs. Together with our students, we must acknowledge the link
between academic integrity and ethical workplace conduct. If we
do, Enron and its demise will be studied in the future as a historical
curiosity, rather than an example of the status quo.
Sangrey Callahan G’84 is a professor of law and public policy at
the School of Management. Her research interests include whistle-blowing,
at-will employment, environmental policy, and academic integrity.