Read a story in the Ottawa Citizen today about U of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management MBA students taking an oath of conduct. The article is here. Another article from the CBC with a copy of the oath is here.
To recap the story, the students at Telfer have joined two North American schools to take an oath of conduct upon graduation. The other schools are Harvard and Thunderbird (Arizona). The oath itself contains statements about considering all stakeholders (not just shareholders) in decisions, obeying laws and acting in an environmentally sustainable manner, among other things.
Having recently completed an MBA, I think it is also important to point out the effect many of the recent "scandals" have had on MBA programs. In one word, it would be HUGE.
I did my MBA at UBC (Robert H. Lee graduate school at Sauder) and in the program there, Ethics or Corporate Social Responsibility was one of the main cornerstones of our program. The first three months of the program is referred to a "The Core". Everyone does the same 13 subjects and few of them get more attention than others in that you spend more time studying them and case discussions are centered around them. They included accounting, marketing, supply chain, strategy and corporate social responsibility. Our year started out with a discussion of Joel Bakan's "The Corporation" and our major project, a business plan, had to included considerations for corporate social responsibility. I have not attended other MBA programs, but I can only assume there was a similar emphasis in other programs.
Why does this oath exist and why are MBA graduates taking it?
1) MBA are starting to get a bad reputation. Many people believe that MBA's are at fault for many recent financial scandals. Jeff Skilling from Enron was a Harvard MBA.
2) Other professionals such as Accountants and Doctors have to take oaths of conduct.
What do I think about it?
It is a marketing ploy. The oath is not mandatory and it is not universal across all MBA programs so for the time being, it serves to differentiate one student or one program from another. Any MBA program worth anything SHOULD be teaching a heavy dose of corporate social responsibility so an oath such as this should not be necessary.
It is not going to deter bad behavior. Some people might argue that if something stops just one person, it is successful. I believe that is an excuse for an inefficient allocation of time and resources. Perhaps more time and effort should be spent inside the program teaching corporate social responsibility, instead of tacking on an oath at the end. And even then, I am sure we are always going to have these problem because not everyone that commits fraud/white collar crime is an MBA and because human nature often trumps everything else.
Personally, I found it really funny that the entire time we were debating and discussing the Enron scandal in my MBA program, Wall Street was pulling billions of dollars out of Main Street. I believe that until regulators and government get seriously tough on corporate crime, we are going to have these problems. Energy goes to where the money is. Which means that if you're smart you will go to Wall Street and make millions instead of going to SEC and making nothing. As long as Wall Street is smarter than Main Street at ripping people off, the trend will continue and oaths like the one taken at Ottawa U, Harvard and Thunderbird sound nice... but if we think they are going to make a difference, we are only kidding ourselves.