If there has been only one major lesson taught to us in the past year, it’s that a handful of shady leaders and a culture of unethical behavior can wreak uncontrollable havoc. From Bernie Madoff to Kwame Kilpatrick to AIG, America’s most dramatic scandals have demonstrated the most basic of lessons: Ethics matter. As the key nurseries for these future leaders, universities have a pivotal place in driving that message home, ours included. While courses are still being planned, the University should encourage professors and academic departments to integrate ethics into their classes so that students enter the professional world prepared to handle the difficult ethical decisions they will inevitably face.

The ethical lapses of American professionals certainly call into question the integrity of university educations. As The New York Times noted in a Mar. 14 article entitled “Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?”, business schools must share the blame for their abject failure to impart a sense of ethical decency in their students ­­— students who have gone on to lead the financial world into ruin for the sake of personal gain. And the University’s own Ross School of Business is no exception.

The Business School must mount a concerted effort to make the discussion of ethics a substantial part of its curriculum. While some professors have begun to include ethics discussions in their lectures, it’s up to the University administration to make sure this is institutionalized. Administrators and course planners need to keep in mind the current failings of the business world and structure classes that will fill this ethical void. If students aren’t being provided with a proper ethical foundation in college, they certainly won’t catch on when they enter the business world.

At the University, students are expected to develop skills that will serve them in the professional world, and the ability to think carefully about the implications of their decisions is an important skill. By incorporating ethical considerations into their everyday lectures, professors will help to continue the growth of students’ knowledge and give students a strong background in thinking critically about ethical questions that might arise before students encounter them firsthand.

Of course, it’s also important to realize that ethical bankruptcy isn’t strictly a phenomena in the business world. In the same vein, the teaching of ethics shouldn’t be limited to the Business School. Political science majors should consider the implications of corruption in government. English majors should be warned about stealing other writers’ works. Ethical issues arise in every area of study and the discussion of ethics should not be limited to any one field. Each academic subject could stand to gain from an increased emphasis on ethical education.

Introducing ethical components into University curricula for every major won’t change human nature or individual ethical standards. But providing a continued discussion on ethical issues encourages students to remain sensitive to ethical considerations. When students start considering the intricacy of ethical issues early, it’s less likely they will succumb to poor decisions.

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