Academic integrity and red tape
really have to pay attention to the culture that we set for the
students--not just the code itself, but the way it's communicated
Diana Robertson, Associate
Professor of Organization and Management
make the honor code and see if people want to buy into it. If they
don't, maybe Emory is not the right place for them."
Thomas D. Lancaster,
Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of German Studies
Is dishonesty rampant on the Emory campus?
What happens with a faculty member falsifies data, plagiarizes,
or otherwise compromises the integrity of his or her research?
specializes in business ethics, social responsibility, and corporate
ethics initiatives. She teaches graduate and undergraduate business
courses on ethics.
Academic Exchange: Are students’ ethics
already formed before they come to Emory?
Diana Robertson: There is research that suggests people
have a set of ethics by the time they’re eighteen; however,
there is also research that shows that the organization itself has
a great deal of influence on how people behave. I’ve done
research with sales people and looked at whether the organizational
compensation system makes a difference in terms of ethical behavior.
The answer is yes, there are a number of factors that do make a
difference. You and I might come to a school and our ethics are
already formed, and you might be a wonderful person who would never
cheat, and I might be a terrible person who would cheat all the
time, but we’re still going to be at least somewhat influenced
by the environment. So I feel very strongly that as a school we
have an obligation to make that environment as conducive to academic
honesty as possible. We can’t just say, oh well, we admitted
these students—maybe some of them are unethical so let’s
just give up on them. And there’s plenty of evidence to support
that we really have to pay attention to the culture that we set
for the students—not just the code itself, but the way it’s
communicated and reinforced. There are many things that we have
to do in order to give an ethics code teeth to make it actually
AE: Do you think your course on ethics makes
your students more ethical people?
DR: This is such a tough question. It’s really
yes and no. The objective of the course is to increase awareness
of ethical issues, and to try to get students to recognize the ethical
issues around them. I do a great deal of discussion of day-to-day
behavior. How you treat your colleagues or your secretary is as
important as whether you report things on financial statements that
you shouldn’t. I know that’s a legal issue too, but
I’m trying to impress upon the students that ethics isn’t
just big issues or disasters. We discuss what constitutes an ethical
issue; we practice talking about issues, and we provide frameworks
for analyzing ethical issues. What I hope I can do is help students
make better ethical decisions, surely better informed decisions.
So, making better decisions? Yes. Making a more ethical person?
Probably not. I can’t say my objective in the classroom is
to make better people, but in fact I hope they are going to make
better decisions, which is part of what makes them better people.
I can’t take responsibility for students’ ethics and
yet I am in a sense trying to improve them. Certainly there’s
an idealistic element to what I’m doing. I’m trying
to put out to them: these are the ideals, this is the way you ought
to behave. There are professional standards and principles, and
we should be following those.
AE: Have you used recent media coverage of
corporate scandals to talk about issues of professional responsibility
in your classes?
DR: I have. Last spring one student in my MBA class
worked at Andersen and another worked at Ernst and Young. They talked
about how ethics had become such a focus at their firms that all
anyone could talk about was ethics. Everything they do is under
such scrutiny—not just externally but internally—that
the climate has changed.
AE: How will these recent scandals influence
business in the future?
DR: They have a positive effect in the sense that
companies are going to be much more careful about what they’re
doing. There are companies that are working very hard to maintain
their image and reputation as ethical companies, and there’s
considerable pressure to do so. I think it’s positive in those
respects. The negative effects have been a change in the public’s
view of business and heightened cynicism about what business is
all about. We’re in a critical period because the way that
these situations are handled legally is going to have tremendous
impact on future business. Right now we don’t know what the
outcomes or sentences will be, and that’s going to make a
big difference, depending on whether there seems to be just a slap
on the wrist or if there is true punishment. The punishments will
send a message about what executives can and can’t get away
with. The other thing that we don’t know is if this is the
tip of the iceberg. Are these scandals just isolated instances,
or will we see more and more? The coming months and years will answer