Business School: Teaching More Than Work Ethic

Tomorrow's corporate leaders are learning business skills and social values at B-schools.

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For example, during orientation week, the school sends all 250 first-year students to work with nonprofits in the community for a day. "You work at a soup kitchen, and it changes you," says Shreve.

Tuck has also added "global mind-set" as a criterion for its admissions policy. "To be an effective leader in today's world, we feel you need to understand other cultures," says Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at Tuck.

Perhaps more significant than changes in the attitudes of administration and faculty are changes in the attitudes of students. Just as the recession has made many people consider alternatives to traditional finance careers, there have been shifts in student interests at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. "You're seeing students with an investment banking background or tech background who want to hone their business skills but in a way that has social impacts," says Matthew Nash, managing director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Fuqua. One program, the Global Consulting Practicum, matches students interested in consulting with organizations around the world in need of help. One such trip sent Fuqua students to the Hope Factory in Johannesburg, a nonprofit that works with unemployed South Africans.

While gaining new experiences outside the classroom might help students, GW's Fort argues that it is equally important to have different perspectives inside the classroom. He recalls one ethics class where the students were discussing a real-life case in which a cookie manufacturer had a bad product batch that was potentially harmful to consumers' health. The company had an opportunity to get rid of the cookies and recoup some losses by selling them to a convenience store in the inner city. "Business students were prone to say, 'Well, as long as it's free choice and full disclosure, it's OK,' " says Fort. But a non-M.B.A. student who had worked in the inner city as a social worker happened to be sitting in on the class. " 'How dare you?' she said," recalls Fort. But because business schools are often loath to spend resources on students who aren't getting M.B.A.'s, "it's very hard to find someone in your class to provide the jaw-dropping comments," he says.

So Fort has found other ways to introduce ethics in unexpected places. In the past three years, he has started producing videos for use in nonethics classes. The videos feature Fort talking about the ethical implications of what students are learning in the other subjects.

Fort argues that teaching ethics in business is not about telling students that profits are bad. Instead, he tries to appeal to his students' desire to make money by stressing that an ethical reputation is often the most reliable tool for business success. As Fort puts it: "In the long term, ethics pays."