Sunday, September 24, 2006

Missing the point

Much has been made in recent days about the high prevalence of cheating amongst graduate students in business schools:
“56 percent of graduate business students — most of whom are pursuing M.B.A.’s — had cheated [during the preceding academic year], compared with 47 percent of graduate students in nonbusiness programs.”

(“Survey Finds Widespread Cheating in M.B.A. Programs,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 19, 2006.)
Everywhere this is being reported as a harbinger of doom, and an easy explanation of why there is so much unethical behavior seen in the business world. And yet, can anyone really express honest surprise at this rate of cheating in the business schools?

It seems to me that the more pertinent message from this survey is that at least 47 percent of ALL graduate students admit to having cheated at least once in the past academic year, a truly appalling figure.

Perhaps it is just my cynicism showing, but I expect business students to cheat, because of what has motivated them to enter business school in the first place. I do not condone it, but I have so little faith in such students that I am hardly surprised when they behave as I expected in the first place.

But these others, these 47 percent of nonbusiness graduate students: what business do they even have attending graduate school? Are these our future biologists and engineers and psychologists and lawyers and nurses and teachers? They have gotten so far along in their “educations” but still have the ethics of a common thief? What can they possibly say to defend themselves? How do they sleep at night? What possible satisfaction can they derive from an accomplishment that they stole?

What do people think school is for, anyway? Is it just “make-work” as some claim? Is it just some perverse price of admission to “the good life”? Is it all just a game? Society invests a ton of money to run these schools but maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. When cheating has become the accepted practice in school, isn’t this some indication that a society’s moral foundations have crumbled and that success in life depends upon just how unethical and money-grubbing and thieving a person can be?

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