Ethics Education for Students

BY R. SCOTT STULTZ

I read with much interest “ Accounting Education: Response to Corporate Scandals ” ( JofA , Nov.04, page 59). Having students discuss the ethical implications surrounding business decisions is an excellent addition to the curriculum. I had a course in my undergraduate program in the early 1990s that dealt with business ethics. It was interesting because it made us think about the issues surrounding the decisions being made in terms other than dollars and cents.

However, I would like to voice a word of caution about the rush to add ethics to the curriculum that’s mentioned in the article. It is nave to think that an ethics assignment, or even a semester-long course, will make students more ethical. By the time most accounting students enter an accounting class, they are already 19 or 20 years old. Do we really think a classroom discussion on ethics is going to undo 20 years’ worth of other influences?

Collegiate ethics training is a good start, but we cannot depend upon it alone to make students ethical. It is the responsibility of those of us currently working in the field of accounting to exhibit ethical behavior in our daily dealings and to demand it from our staff members. Without the reinforcement of ethical behavior in the work environment, the positive effects of collegiate ethics training will be extinguished. While I do applaud the efforts of schools, ethics classes alone cannot provide the “silver bullet” that will prevent the next Enron.

R. Scott Stultz, CPA, Controller
Tri-State Transit Authority
Huntington, West Virginia

“Accounting Education: Response to Corporate Scandals” talks about a world that does not exist and is not likely to be a reality anytime soon. Significant changes must be made in Sarbanes-Oxley and other laws to protect the persons raising the questions. It is one thing to detect and understand fraud. It is a completely different matter when one is challenged to step forth and do something about it. Students need to be educated to the risk inherent in doing the right thing. When raising the questions and provoking the necessary discussions, the person operating on his or her moral compass will likely be chastised for not being a team player rather than applauded for raising the ethical bar. Until the ethical person is provided more substantive protection in the workplace, ethical behavior will continue to be more of a goal than a reality.

Mary Lou Herring, CPA
Topeka, Kansas

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