The Business of Cheating

The Toronto Star reports that MBA students are likelier to cheat.

According to the study ”œAcademic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: The Prevalence, Causes, and Proposed Actions:”

“56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students.”

The study, which included 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S., was conducted by management professors at Rutgers, Washington State and Pennsylvania State universities, and due to appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal. Researcher Donald McCabe also noted “Those numbers are probably under-reported.”

This study points towards a trend of “business-as-usual” lying, cheating and corruption where Enron (and Watergate) are the norm and not the exception. In our increasingly post-modern, post-reality, straussian-influenced culture, is it any surprised if our children emulate the attitudes and strategies we explicitly and implicitly teach them that society rewards?

Lying, cheating and corruption may be “propensities” that MBA programs arguably reward, but we can hardly lay the whole blame for a culture of corruption on business schools. In a 2005 study by analysts at Wetfeet, over 800 students interested in pursuing a career in Management Consulting were asked: “Please select up to 3 factors that make your top ranked company appealing to you.” Only 2 people said that “Ethics” was one of their top 3 factors for choosing a consulting firm. (Even the category “Other” was rated more highly than “Ethics.”)

You can insert all the cynical fall-of-an-imperial-power malaise comments that you want, but my heartfelt questions for you are: where and how do we intervene to correct the social trend towards accepting and condoning pathological behaviour? How do we move towards a culture of honesty, ethics and accountability? What can we do as individuals, families, communities and a society to make a difference? And finally, who do you know of who is already working to to turn the trend?

Hat tip to Steve Shu, David Maister, and Guerilla Consulting for the links.

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Alexey

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  • There’s very little chance of being caught. But it’s also because we make people go to university to take degrees to get a good job. If they fail out, it will cost them millions in future earnings. Given the risk is low, and the reward is high, and the education is, frankly, mostly a bogus time serving exercise that has little practical use once you get out of school (there is very little evidence that having a degree makes you better at most businesses and plenty that it doesn’t) why wouldn’t they do what they need to do to get that piece of paper that is worth so much and has so little to do with real learning?

  • I’m not at all sure that the figures are any worse than 20 or 50 years ago.

    What makes me worried is that when figures show that 50% lies, people continue to assume that only about 10% lies.

    where and how do we intervene to correct the social trend towards accepting and condoning pathological behaviour?

    Pathological? In few cases, yes. This lying business is a complex phenomenon.

    According to the studies, people prefer people who lie. A good example is religion. People whose whole life is based on lies, are “holy”.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

  • Ian, When I was writing this I tried (with no luck) to dig up the link to your article (from around Jan or Feb 2005 as I recall) about deciding your values before they’re put to the test. Do you happen to have it at hand?

    I agree with the good points you raise. At the same time, the problem is bigger than business schools or the world of business. This is an acute manifestation of a chronic and growing problem.

    For example, and to bring the discussion closer to home for Agonist readers, Bush and the Republican-military-industrial complex faced a similar risk vs reward proposition when they chose to lie to start the war in Iraq.

    If the ethical standard of the day is indexed to the risk of getting caught…then we can only expect to see more corruption, not less, in all spheres.

  • I’m not at all sure that the figures are any worse than 20 or 50 years ago.

    The sources I’ve seen so far haven’t raised any historical data for comparison. I’d love to see it, too, if anyone comes across it.

    What makes me worried is that when figures show that 50% lies, people continue to assume that only about 10% lies.

    Frightening ramifications for electoral politics there…

    Pathological?

    Perhaps not the best choice of words. I meant pathological in its ramifications to greater society, not individually pathological.

    …people who prefer people who lie.

    Haven’t come across this one before. Would love a link or reference if you can point me at anything.

    And can’t join you in the religion bashing.

  • Ian, I want to belatedly add a link to today’s Washington Post article (via Ypulse about how Virginia high school students are protesting use of web anti-plagiarism tools.

    Sort of kills the cost arguement…

    I fundamentally fail to understand where the students are coming from in these stories. (This one is hardly the first — wasn’t Halifax in the news not long ago with a similar story?) As a high school and university student, I didn’t cheat, and I didn’t see a need to protect other students who cheat or build a system that rewarded them. Or doth they protest so much from a desire to protect themselves?

    From the WaPo article: “The Center for Academic Integrity, affiliated with Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, surveyed 18,000 public and private high school students over four years and found that more than 60 percent admitted to some form of plagiarism, according to a 2005 report.”

  • Yeah, I have no sympathy. If you’re going to cheat, at least be smart about it.

    BTW: reprinted the lines post at the Agonist, since most here will never have read it.

  • would be that it in a political climate which is increasingly polarized and punitive it exerts a chilling effect on young people to have to think that everything they write in their youth could be dredged up and used against them later. It’s permitting youthful expression to later be tried in adult court. Who would write anything critical of policy knowing that it could later bar them from opportunity?

    As a quick scan of today’s headlines reveals, they have every reason to expect this to be done; this activity is ramping up, and there are virtually no perceptible ethical guidelines in America today as to how tools of surveillance, once established, are later used.

    I think our youth are more technologically savvy than we are and can project full well the consequences of having every word written in every high-school and college essay fed into a database.

  • I also wonder about coincidences. I’m not impressed with the “one sentence the same” standard for plagiarism. I need to see a lot more than that before I’ll condemn.

  • I will definitely grant you that, especially in this panopticon culture.

    I’ll disagree with one minor point, though:

    I think our youth are more technologically savvy than we are…

    I have consistently found that teen’s level of tech ability and tech awareness are higher-rated than the statistics support.

    For example, this Jakob Neilsen study on website usability for teens showed that (despite popular misconceptions) teenagers have a LOWER success rate completing fairly simple website tasks than adults surveyed (teens 55% success vs adults 66% success). The reasons: insufficient reading skills, less sophisticated research strategies, and a dramatically lower patience level.

    I would agree that teens have a different level of awareness and facility with tech tools…but not necessarily that it is better or higher.

  • …about the methodology of the study (the issue of the journal isn’t yet available for download – no idea if hardcopy’s out yet) I think we need to be a little cautious on this one until there’s a fuller detailing of the method/questionnaire. I have a feeling (just a feeling, I emphasize) based on how one of the authors speaks of their research that what’s being reported here is what might be termed a summative index (i.e., if the respondent engaged in one or all of activity A, B or C then they are identified as a cheater [I’m sure there’s a formal term for this, but buggered if I know it]) depending on what’s in the “A, B, or C” list this figure could jump about a lot. I use the same general methodology for identifying various behaviours in surveys and it’s all in figuring out what’s valid as the A, B, and C questions.

    “We declared war on terror, it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.” – Jon Stewart.

  • feeling is that I would be surprised if the percentage who don’t cheat in some way is as high as 10%. School, business, whatever. It seems to be part of human nature to cheat. Of course, if cheating is included in problem solving then that sheds an evolutionary light on that activity. Which does not mean it is ethically proper, just understandable.

    “I beseech you in the bowels of christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”

  • the percentage who don’t cheat in some way is as high as 10%

    I can’t reject that. It of course depends on how accurate we are when measuring cheating.

    My assumption has been that most people think that politicians are liars. I see that they express themselves more often in a misleading way instead of direct lying. Bush advertised tax cuts when he increased taxation. Taxes did decrease but their total sum increased. Even the democrats have accepted the tax-cut point of view because the reality is too complex (thus, what’s not too complex?). And people don’t want to hear that they have been cheated.

    Here we think that the most notorious part of American cheating are the fake CVees. Some business people complain that Americans sales personnel books sales which they hope to close – it’s called “American optimism”.

    What comes to academic world, I helped a lady to represent data in her postgraduate thesis to hide some negative facts, which her professor was prejudiced not to accept as reality.

    There has been earlier a post in the Agonist science section telling that 50% of the published research results are wrong. No wonder, the researchers are paid to publish research and the methods in a new research are suboptimal. I went this through with an econometrician who had unsuitable method for his data. He just defenestrates the data which doesn’t support the conclusions made from the most of the data.

    Many of the concepts in contemporary feminism and psychology are just made up. In history most of the victims of witch hunt were men in some areas (unlike the feminists claim here) and it was not so much a church operation. Kids doing mobbing in schools feel mentally well (unlike the teachers and the psychologists claimed here). Somebody just invented false arguments which sounded good and they started to circulate.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

  • Many of the concepts in contemporary feminism and psychology are just made up. In history most of the victims of witch hunt were men in some areas (unlike the feminists claim here) and it was not so much a church operation. Kids doing mobbing in schools feel mentally well (unlike the teachers and the psychologists claimed here). Somebody just invented false arguments which sounded good and they started to circulate.

    Gandalf, if you have any supporting evidence to support these rather aggressive assertions, it would facilitate continuing the conversation…

  • from the September 25, 2006 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0925/p09s01-coop.html

    The US doesn’t need more college grads

    By George C. Leef
    RALEIGH, N.C.
    With a new school year begun and people focusing attention on questions of the cost and value of higher education, it is reasonable to inquire whether America is putting enough high school graduates through college. It is widely believed that we don’t.

    After all, six other nations now surpass the US in the percentage of younger adults who have college degrees, reports the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in “Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education.” The 2004 national report card concluded, “…the United States is underperforming in higher education.” “Measuring Up 2006” maintains that this is still true. Commenting on the report’s findings, the center’s president, Patrick Callan, asserts: “What is at risk is America’s future educational and economic leadership….”

    But the notion that we will put our country’s future in jeopardy unless we get more students through college is mistaken. The US already puts too many unmotivated students into college, where they learn little.

    There are lots of American students who are eager to learn and proceed to master skills that aid them in their careers. But government and private support already get almost all of these passionate pupils into college. The trouble is that many other students enter college with no enthusiasm for learning. Boosting college participation would mean recruiting still more of these disengaged students. Increasing their numbers will not give us a more skilled workforce; it will just put more downward pressure on academic standards.

    Already standards have been falling for decades, as schools have lowered expectations to keep weak, indifferent students enrolled. Indeed, many students who graduate from college are deficient in even the most basic skills that employers want. Last year’s National Assessment of Adult Literacy found, for example, that less than a third of college graduates are proficient in reading and the ability to do elementary mathematical calculations. Similarly, the National Commission on Writing has found that many business executives are appalled at graduates’ poor writing skills.

    more commentary at link


    In these times you have to be an optimist to open your eyes when you awake in the morning. ~ Carl Sandburg

  • these rather aggressive assertions

    Basic contemporary history and psychology studies are not usually called aggressive assertions.

    Witch hunt lies were invented 150 years ago. Seems that nobody bothered to check the minutes of the middle age court sessions until our days. Feminists were happy to spread the unchecked lies.

    It is not known who first invented the emphatic lies about school yard bullies.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

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