students lead cheating pack
By Al Lewis,
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Cheating in business starts with cheating on tests, and nobody
cheats more than people working on their MBAs.
In a survey by professors at Pennsylvania State, Rutgers and
Washington State universities, 56 percent of MBA students
admitted to cheating -- as in sneaking notes into tests or
stealing another's work to complete one's master's thesis.
The survey of 5,331 students at 32 graduate business schools in
the United States and Canada will be published this week in the
journal Academy of Management Learning & Education. The
findings will be discussed at the 2006 Center for Academic
Integrity International Conference at the University of Colorado
in Boulder on Oct. 19 and 20.
One of the study's authors, Donald McCabe, a management
professor at Rutgers' business school in Newark, N.J., told me
he was disturbed at how cavalier graduate-level students have
become. They not only cheat; they brag about it.
"At some schools, if you're the guy who can steal the exam and
give it to everybody else, you're kind of a folk hero," McCabe
Reminds me of junior high school. Do they shoot spitballs too?
You'd think adult graduate-level students would be more serious
about actually learning something.
MBAs are not the only ones cheating. Of graduate engineering
students, 54 percent admitted to cheating, making them a close
second to MBAs. Among science students, it was 50 percent. Of
education students, 48 percent. Of law students, 45 percent.
Among social-science and humanities students -- and this really
does not renew my faith in humanity -- it was only 39 percent.
(In the interest of full disclosure, communications majors are
big cheaters too, ranking right up there with engineers, said
McCabe. But the percentage was not released because the sample
size of these students was too small.)
Business students have led the pack in cheating for decades,
according to McCabe, a renowned expert on academic dishonesty.
In 1997, McCabe did a survey in which 84 percent of
undergraduate business students admitted cheating versus 72
percent of engineering students and 66 percent of all students.
In a 1964 survey by Columbia University, 66 percent of business
students surveyed at 99 campuses said they cheated at least
"Business students seemed to have already incorporated into
their psyche this bottom-line mentality," McCabe said. "Getting
the job done is what's important. How you get it done is less
It should be no surprise, then, that Jeff Skilling, the former
chief executive of Enron who now awaits sentencing on fraud
charges, is a Harvard MBA. Or that Qwest's former chief
executive Joe Nacchio, awaiting trial on insider-trading
charges, has an MBA from New York University. Nacchio has
pleaded not guilty.
MBAs are the guys who come into a business and immediately start
angling it for themselves. They are the ones who get paid six,
seven or sometimes even eight figures to lay off thousands of
people. They are the ones who work at companies such as Arthur
Andersen, bagging millions of dollars in consulting fees as they
cook and shred the books.
McCabe says he's never found a school where he's been unable to
find cheating. But he says there is less cheating at schools
where students are asked to adopt honor codes. Fewer people
cheat when it is socially unacceptable to do so or when it is
left up to one's own conscience to keep a personal promise, he
The University of Denver's Daniels College of Business not only
expects its students to live up to an honor code but
incorporates ethics discussions in its courses.
"We elevate it to a level of social consciousness," said Stephen
Haag, Daniels' associate dean for graduate programs and academic
The school's namesake, the late cable magnate Bill Daniels,
wanted to teach students that true business success goes hand in
hand with honesty.
"At a lot of these MBA schools, the notion of needing to compete
and win is so great," said Haag. "Students are there to do
nothing but get the big job on Wall Street and make a whole lot
of money. That is not what we're about. ... We are about saving
the world. And you can't save the world cheating on tests."
Al Lewis' column appears
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