B-School Retraining: Gordon Gekkos Need Not Apply

04/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Is it time to retrain B-Schools?" was the headline in Sunday's New Tork Times article by Kelley Holland.

I say it's not only time to retrain business schools in the face of the unprecedented fiscal and risk management failure we face today, it's imperative. The core curriculum needs some serious overhaul. Business Schools must have required courses on ethics, and businesses need to schedule continuing education courses in ethics, too.

The call for a business code of conduct is not new. A movement that rises to the national level is one that seems to establish the professions of business much the way law and medicine have codes of conduct, certification examinations and continuing education requirements. While establishing such standards would at the very least create a context around business conduct, I think a standard that connects business conduct to improvement in our societal goals would have more impact. I am arguing for a broader base of ethical education beyond the business suite.

I served as a trustee of the New York University School of Business, now named The Stern School, in the mid 1980's. The markets were beginning to run away from basic fundamentals, The Gordon Gekko character from the movie Wall Street declared "greed is good" and regulation fell by the wayside. It's a familiar refrain we've heard, but never as clearly as in our current global melt down. When will we ever learn?

Back then, I repeatedly asked that ethics classes be required as a part of the B-school curriculum while serving as trustee. My pleas were of no avail. Dick West, then Dean of the Business School, sympathized and regretted that the faculty tried more than once to offer these courses, but students failed to show up. They argued they already had all the ethics they needed.

Maybe not. According to Bloomberg, in a recent study, conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, among MBA students found that they cheat more than students of any other discipline. The study found that 56% of MBA students acknowledged cheating, compared with 54% in engineering, 48% in education and 45% in Law School. Unfortunately, all of these percentages are shockingly high and say a lot about ethics in America.

So what ethics have we taught our students? It's okay to cheat as long as we don't get caught? Everybody else does it so I lose out if I don't? The attitude may explain to some degree why greed-is-good and everyone is winking and playing the game, so why shouldn't I?

Our problem with ethics is broader than the classes in B-schools, medical, engineering and law schools. We need to hold up a mirror to our own behavior and ask, what are our standards for ethical behavior? Where have we failed? And is it too late, as I was told in the 1980's to instill ethics in Graduate school? Or is late better than not at all? I say let's require ethics courses in B-schools. For my money, late is better than never. It's time we said, Gordon Gekko's need not apply.