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A New Context for Ethics Education

Objectives in a College of Business:


Ethical Decision-Making Models Neil C. Herndon, ft.

ABSTRACT. Objectives for ethics education in Reeves, 1990; Schaupp et al, 1992; Sims and
business school courses generally appear to be based Sims, 1991; Smith and VanDoren, 1989; Trevino,
on custom, intuition, and Judgment rather than on a
1992; Wortuba, 1993). They generally involve
more unified theoretical/empirical base. These objec-
either a normative approach rooted in philosophy
tives may be more clearly implemented and their
effects studied more rigorously if they could be rooted
or a descriptive/predictive approach rooted in the
in the components of ethical decision-making models social sciences (Kahn, 1990; Trevino, 1992).
shown to be influential in ethical decision making. These approaches generally have objectives such
This paper shows how several widely used ethics as those developed by Dr. Daniel Callahan of
education objectives can be placed in the context of The Hastings Center (Callahan, 1980): stimu-
current models of ethical decision making. lating the moral imagination, developing the
ability to recognize ethical issues, eliciting a sense
of moral obligation, developing analytical skills,
Introduction and promoting a tolerance of ambiguity and dis-
agreement (c.f.. Bishop, 1992; Castro, 1989;
Both the practitioner press (c.f., Brophy, 1987; Dunfee and Robertson, 1988; Ghorpade, 1991;
Byrne, 1993; Levin, 1989; Luoma, 1989; Murray, Hiltebeitel and Jones, 1992; Sims and Sims, 1991;
1987; Noah, 1987; Thurow, 1987) and the Wotruba, 1993).
academic press (c.f., Bok, 1988; Craig, 1983; While intuitively important, these objectives
David et al., 1990) have for some years continued may be more clearly implemented and their
to question and debate if business school courses effects studied more rigorously if they could be
can improve ethical decision making by practi- rooted in the components of ethical decision-
tioners in view of the ethical failures that making models shown to be influential in ethical
continue to be highlighted in the news media. decision making. The use of explanatory models
A number of approaches have been suggested of this type is thought to lead to better explana-
(c.f., Baxter and Rarick, 1987; Clarkson, tions and to more understanding of phenomena
1991; Craig, 1983; Dunfee and Robertson, 1988; (Zaltman et al, 1982) as well as to help generate
Gaidis and Andrews, 1990; Krohn, 1985; new ideas and new perspectives useful in theory
Maclagan, 1992; Nelson and Obremski, 1990; construction (Lazer, 1962). This paper examines
some previous studies that consider the effects
of various classroom methods aimed at improving
Neil Herndon is University Lecturer in the Department of ethical behavior, discusses several models of
Business and Management at the City University of ethical decision making, shows how current
Hong Kong. His major research interest involves the
ethics education objectives can be placed in the
influences of the ethical content of corporate cultures on
context of current models of ethical decision
the people within an organization. His work in this area
making, and makes some suggestions for further
has been published in the Journal of International
Consumer Marketing and the Proceedings of the research.
Academy of Marketing Science.

Journal of Business Ethia 15: 501-510, 1996.


1996 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
502 Neil C. Herndon, Jr.

Empirical evidence of change produced by be explained before a peer committee, and con-
ethics related education sidering the views of the other party to be
more appropriate for resolving moral choices in
Improving ethics education for business students business. While these accounting students were
does appear to be a worthwhile goal from at least also found to consider determining whether the
two perspectives. Mortensen et al. (1989) found harm in an action outweighed the good to be
that practicing managers consider ethics-related significantly less appropriate for resolving moral
behaviors to be important aspects of their job. choices in business, ten additional principles
And the majority of Canadian (Singh, 1989) and remained statistically unchanged (Hiltebeitel and
U.S. (George, 1987; Schoenfeldt et al, 1991) Jones, 1992).
business schools surveyed do include ethics in One study was found which assessed the
their curriculum. However, the recent empirical change in the moral development of law students
evidence for the effectiveness of this instruction using Kohlberg's model following exposure to
is mixed. normative ethical theory. The overall gain on the
Feldman and Thompson (1990) did not fmd Defining Issues Test averaged 5.6 points, with a
significant differences in student attitudes toward range o f - 1 3 . 3 to +21.7 points (Nelson and
corporate social responsibility over a semester in Obremski, 1990), where a higher score indicates
which a business and society course was taken. the student to be more principled (Trevino,
Similarly, Wynd and Mager (1989) found no 1992). However, these results are somewhat
significant difference in the attitudes of students tentative due to a small sample size (N = 24).
toward corporate social responsibility situations Merritt (1991) has examined some relation-
having ethical content and student personal ships between the educational background and
business ethics before and after taking a business the ethical standards of professional marketers.
and society course. However, Glenn (1992) does Business degrees are associated with lower ethical
report statistically more ethical responses to 13 of standards, but are not associated with lower
53 questions administered to students completing ethical behavior; those with business degrees and
a business and society course. those with nonbusiness degrees report similar
In a longitudinal study that assessed the behaviors. Merritt did not find a significant rela-
personal business ethics of undergraduate business tionship between level of education and either
students before, immediately after, and four years ethical standards or ethical behavior. However,
after completing a business and society course, the study does not report if classes containing
Arlow and Ulrich (1985) found no significant ethical content were included in all of the
difference in mean scores over that time period. subjects' curriculum.
However, the immediate post-course scores These studies suggest that there are difficul-
for accounting majors declined while those of ties inherent in teaching business courses having
management and marketing majors increased, ethical content where the goal is to promote
suggesting that the academic discipline of the desirable long-term changes in students' ethics-
group itself may influence the effectiveness of related constructs. Weber (1990) summarized his
instruction. review of studies assessing the result of teaching
Harris and Guffey (1991), using an ethics ethics by noting that students' ethical awareness
module within a capstone course for marketing or reasoning skills seem to improve, but the
majors, found significant differences at alpha = improvement appears to be a short-term effect.
0.05 in student attitudes about coercive power, He goes on to point out that inconsistencies in
influence dealing, and self-interest, but not about research design, measures, and statistical methods
fraud and deceit. Similarly, after integrating a make explanations of inconsistent results more
business ethics module into accounting classes, difficult. Weber's observations also generally
students in another study were found to consider apply to the studies reviewed here as well (and
taking advantage of all legal opportunities and summarized in Table I much as Weber (1990) has
widespread customs, doing only that which could done, but with the addition of the educational
A New Context for Ethics Education Objectives 503

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504 Neil C. Herndon, Jr.

methods used in the studies). To further com- and Vitell (1986), and Trevino (1986). Wotruba
plicate the integration of research fmdings in this (1990) places the same components contained in
area, especially in longitudinal studies such as the synthesis integrated model into a sales man-
those of Arlow and Ulrich (1985), there appear agement context, while Jones (1991) adds the
to be differences in personal ethical standards and concept of moral intensity which is the degree
the actual ethical behaviors they produce, in part of "badness" of an act; it can be placed in the
because of the influences of the corporate culture consequences and behavioral evaluation portions
in which former business students are now of the synthesis integrated model. Therefore, the
working (Ferrell and Gresham, 1985; Ferrell et synthesis integrated model [hereafter the FGF
al., 1989; Zey-Ferrell et al., 1979). model] (Fig. 1) will be used in this paper because
Contradictory information from multiple it contains the state-of-the-art components in use
studies can be thought of as an essential element today.
in increasing understanding about phenomena The FGF model follows the problem recog-
because of the additional thinking and research nition, search, evaluation, choice, and outcome
they often engender as their results are investi- sequence of the basic process-oriented decision-
gated further (Moschis, 1992). Consequently, this making paradigm (Ferrell et al., 1989). It indi-
paper does not enter the debate about whether cates that once a problem is identified as having
or not ethics can be effectively taught or learned ethical content internalized individual ethical
in favor of considering how ethics education frameworks and other available information will
objectives may be placed in the context of ethical be used to generate acceptable alternatives, which
decision-making models, an approach similar to are then considered in terms of their likely con-
that which Kernaghan and Mancino (1991) have sequences. These consequences yield a cluster
taken in their work. of intentions from which the individual chooses
a behavior. The consequences of the actual
behavior feeds back into the model to modify
Models of ethical decision making future ethical decisions through learning. The
model further suggests that individual factors
There are several positive models of ethical interact with organizational factors to influence
decision making that consider how a number of individual decision making (Ferrell and Gresham,
factors interact to produce ethical or unethical 1985; Ferrell et al, 1989).
behaviors. They are based on theory gleaned The FGF model has at its roots the theory of
from several disciplines and on the findings from reasoned action derived from social psychology
a number of empirical studies. The more widely (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980; Dubinsky and Loken,
used models are the Ferrell and Gresham (1985) 1989; Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975). The theory
contingency model of ethical decision making in assumes the rationality of individuals who are
a marketing organization, the Hunt and Vitell utilizing available information when selecting a
(1986) general theory of marketing ethics, the behavior that is under their volitional control.
Trevino (1986) person-situation interactionist The moral development portion of the model is
model of ethical decision making in organiza- rooted in the work of Kohlberg (1976).
tions, the Ferrell et al. (1989) synthesis integrated The components of the FGF model suggest
model of ethical decision making in business, the two general categories of factors where atten-
Wotruba (1990) framework for the analysis of tion would tend to influence ethical behavior:
ethical behavior with a focus on sales organiza- individual factors and organizational factors.
tions, and the Jones (1991) issue-contingent Individual factors include moral philosophies,
model of ethical decision making in organiza- intentions, attitudes, values, and knowledge.
tions. While the research results are mixed about the
The synthesis integrated model (Ferrell et al., effects of teaching and learning on these factors
1989) specifically includes the content of models as detailed earlier, they do suggest a basis to
developed by Ferrell and Gresham (1985), Hunt unite current objectives for business school ethics
A New Context for Ethics Education Objectives 505

Horai
Awareness Cognitions Evaluations Determination Action
Social Stage of
and Ethical Cognitive Deontoiogical Ethical
Economic Issues Moral Teleological Intentions or
Envi ronment Development Judgments Unethical
Behavior
A

Consequences

Organizational Culture
Opportunity
Behavioral
Individual Moderators Evaluation

Source: Adapted from Ferrell, Gresham, and Fraedrich (1989)

Fig. 1. A Synthesis Integrated Model of Ethical Decision Making in Business.

education in a way that would allow them to be Placing some objectives for ethics
more clearly implemented and their effects education in business scbools within the
studied more rigorously. The key idea here is that context of the FGF model
changes in these individual factors, according to
the FGF model, would tend to influence an indi- Callahan (1980) has proposed several goals
vidual's ethical decision making. important for all ethics courses in American
Organizational factors are placed within the higher education following a systematic two-year
organizational culture construct in the FGF study that sought, in part, to identify the goals
model. They include the normative structure guiding ethics education across disciplines
describing how things are done within the (Callahan and Bok, 1980). A team of professors
organization and what behaviors are expected, first surveyed different types of institutions of
referent others such as subordinates, peers, and higher learning seeking to understand what ethics
superiors, obedience to authority, and responsi- education was actually trying to accomplish.
bility for consequences; they are sometimes Ethical problems presented themselves differently
summarized by the terms "opportunity" and in different fields: in a macro sense military and
"significant others". While these models share business higher education focused on preventing
the view that ethical decision making in organi- "bad behavior", medical schools focused on the
zations involves both individual and organiza- "right" thing to do for patients, and philosophy
tional factors (Akaah and Riordan, 1989), there programs emphasized developing analytical skills.
is some empirical data that suggest that the Detailed discussions then revealed underlying
content of the organizational culture may be a positive program goals common across disci-
better prediction of ethical behavior than indi- phnes (Callahan, 1993). These goals have been
vidual factors in these settings (Zey-Ferrell et al, frequently cited in other work as appropriate
1979). As with individual factors, these organi- for business schools (c.f., Ghorpade, 1991;
zational factors also suggest a more rigorous Hiltebeitel and Jones, 1992; Sims and Sims,
approach to unite current objectives for business 1991); consequently they are adopted here post
school ethics education within the unified the- hoc and tied to ethical decision-making models
oretical/empirical framework found in the FGF to provide them with a more unified theo-
model. retical/empirical base.
506 Neil C. Herndon, Jr.

Callahan's (1980) first goal is "stimulating the disagreement and ambiguity" (Callahan, 1980,
moral imagination" (p. 64). It involves students p. 67) in the study of ethics. It involves helping
understanding that there is a moral point of view students handle the uncertainty and the divergent
and that moral choices have consequences. The views that Callahan sees as inherent in the study
FGF model treats student understanding that of ethics by teaching them to argue and disagree
there is a moral point of view within the context in an appropriate fashion. The FGF model would
of recognizing that an ethical issue exists; recog- also treat this goal under individual moderators
nition also involves an individual's level of such as knowledge, values, attitudes, and inten-
moral development. Consequences are included tions, with these factors being used by the indi-
in a feedback loop that involves evaluation of vidual to generate alternatives from which a
behavior. behavior is selected.
Callahan notes that his second goal - "recog- Callahan's (1980) "important goals in the
nizing ethical issues" (p. 65) - is related to the teaching of ethics" (p. 64) mainly involve the
first. He also points out that recognition would individual moderators of the FGF model. He
involve being able to " . . . rationally articulate a does, however, recognize the importance of social
felt response of injustice . . ." (p. 65). This would and psychological factors in teaching ethics.
involve some understanding of prescriptive moral These include cultural, social, and political
statements and/or ethical principles and rules. contexts of ethical reasoning, and familiarity with
The FGF model also places this within the the findings of moral philosophy, sociology, and
context of moral development in that the anthropology relevant to ethics. He also recog-
individual uses deontological and teleological nizes the importance of students knowing about
theories to arrive at judgments about issues or relevant codes of ethics, the norms of a profes-
dilemmas having ethical content. sion, and typical ethical problems they may face
Callahan's third goal is "eliciting a sense of in their career. These latter goals are encom-
moral obligation" (p. 66). This involves a desire passed in the organizational culture portion of
or an intention ". . . to act benevolently or with the FGF model and, because of their importance
justice toward others . . ." (p. 66). The FGF to ethical decision making, probably receive
model indicates that once moral evaluations are far less emphasis from Callahan (1980) than
made the individual develops an intention to they deserve. However, it should be noted in
behave in a particular fashion which is shaped Callahan's defense that his conceptual work on
by the individual's moral evaluation of the goals in ethics education precedes current models
situation, by perceived alternatives, and by of ethical decision making by at least five years.
perceived consequences. It does appear, however, that Callahan's (1980)
The fourth goal, "developing analytical skills" work has been able to encompass new research
(Callahan, 1980, p. 67), involves the development findings over time as has the FGF model.
of coherence and consistency in the analysis and Cutting-edge research in ethical decision making
in the justification of ethical propositions. It has added several recent perspectives that could
includes concept definitions, the meanings of be fitted both within the context of Callahan's
general ethical principles, and the consequences (1980) goals and within the context of the FGF
associated with the application of moral rules. model. For example, Fraedrich and Ferrell (1992)
Callahan suggests this can be thought of mainly have shown that perceived risk influences ethical
in terms of the development of logical skiUs. The decision making; this suggests another individual
FGF model follows the problem recognition, moderator to be included within this category in
search, evaluation, choice, and outcome sequence the FGF model. Payne and Giacalone (1990)
of the basic decision-making paradigm. It recog- suggest that impression management should be
nizes that individual moderators, including considered from a social psychological perspec-
knowledge, influence the ethical decision-making tive as influencing ethical decision making; this
process. approach involves both individual moderators and
The fifth goal is "tolerating - and reducing - portions of the organizational culture in the FGF
A New Context for Ethics Education Objectives 507

model. Both of these findings could be placed plines, and also how they should differ across
within Callahan's (1980) recognition of the industries and organizational types; Grollman and
importance of social and psychological factors in Van Hise (1992) and Mortensen et al. (1989) have
the teaching of business ethics. made good starts in that direction within their
specific disciplines.
There appear to be a number of assumptions
Suggestions for further research about how these goals may be accomplished. For
example, it is often assumed that business edu-
While much of Callahan's (1980) work is at 3 cation increases sensitivity to ethical issues; some-
macro level, it appears that his goals for teaching times this assumption is extended to corporate
business ethics could be reduced to a number of training programs (c.f., Dabholkar and Kellaris,
subgoals in order to provide more specific 1992). However, no empirical evidence was
guidance for those teaching in this area. The located which directly supports this assumption.
subgoals probably should vary by disciplines Despite the fact that Callahan's (1980) goals have
found within a business school (c.f., Arlow and been published and cited for over ten years, there
Ulrich, 1985). For example, accounting students does not seem to be empirical confirmation of
may focus on following generally accepted how to achieve these goals. It would be useful
principles of accounting and auditing and to move in the direction of testing various edu-
relevant legal principles, as well as completing cational methods for efficiency and effectiveness
certain duties to their clients (c.f., Davis, 1989; in accomplishing these goals or, more specifically,
DeGeorge, 1990; Grollman and Van Hise, 1992), subgoals, since this increased specificity would
computer science students may focus on pro- tend to facilitate hypotheses testing. Subgoals
tecting company and client information from could be stated as testable hypotheses to provide
unauthorized disclosure, as well as on privacy more specific guidance for researchers; placing
issues and intellectual property rights (c.f., Bickel, these subgoals within the context of ethical
1992; DeGeorge, 1990), finance students may decision-making models should aid in the
focus on avoiding conflicts of interest and sup- hypothesis development and testing process.
porting proper reporting by financial analysts, as As Weber (1990) has noted, it is extremely
well as on ethical investing (c.f., Benson, 1992; difficult to compare results from studies about the
Davis, 1989; DeGeorge, 1990; Grollman and Van influence of ethics education on students in
Hise, 1992; McGee, 1992), management students business schools because of inconsistencies in
may focus on being both ethical and socially research design, measures, and statistical methods
responsible as seen from the perspectives of all of which complicates the comparison of
diverse internal and external stakeholders educational methods, which also seem to vary
(c.f., Benson, 1992; Davis, 1989), and marketing somewhat across studies as indicated in Table I,
students may focus on the conflicts associated as well. It would be useful to look at these past
with spanning the corporate boundary(s) be- studies and build on what was done well and
tween their own company and the customer (c.f., what was done not so well in order to formu-
Corey, 1993; Lysonski and Johnson, 1983). late a research agenda that will focus on how this
The roles these different disciplines play in the project can be systematically tackled. While this
corporate structure, the differing purposes and task has been left to other researchers, the devel-
duties they have in interacting with internal and opment of subgoals by discipline would appear
external customers, and the differing responsi- to be a reasonable place to begin since these
bilities they have for the ethical content of could be prepared as testable hypotheses and thus
the corporate culture, all suggest the need for could provide more focus than merely testing for
subgoals which may vary to some degree in changes in larger constructs such as corporate
content and importance. It would be useful to social responsibility or personal business ethics (as
better understand how these subgoals should shown in Table I) which may mask the effects
differ in content and importance across disci- of underlying constructs.
508 Neil C. Herndon, Jr.

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