New Survey: MBA Students Most Likely to Cheat
> 9/22/2006 11:20:13 AM

While law schoolers generally endure the most dismissive ridicule, a new survey suggests that MBA students more often engage in ethically questionable academic practices. In a pool of more than five thousand students from graduate programs across the United States and Canada, more than 56% of those pursuing a Master of Business degree admitted to cheating in one of thirteen ways (from sharing answers to internet plagiarism) over the past year.

While some use this story, along with recent business world scandals like the collapse of Enron and the current shake-up at Hewlett Packard, to draw unfavorable portraits of rising businessmen and women who focus on the bottom line at the expense of all ethical concerns, others reject such sweeping caricature, arguing that dishonesty is a simple fact in most schools and that the numbers presented by this survey reveal little about the relative presence of cheating in different graduate fields.

The full results of the survey, published in this month's journal of the Academy of Management Learning and Education, should clarify some of these press clips, but one should not read them as a wholesale indictment of the business school sphere. While the number of confessed MBA cheaters is upsettingly high, 47% of non-business grad students reported cheating as well. Previous research also implies that undergraduates of all persuasions cheat even more often; at least three-quarters of students at select schools have admitted as much. Among disciplines, the social sciences seem to be the most ethically sound with only 39 percent of the student body reporting dishonest practices, but this may be due to a smaller list of potential venues for academic misbehavior.

What if MBAs are simply more honest about their dishonesty? Despite the survey's anonymous nature, one can hardly believe that every guilty student admitted to the charges held within, and warped value judgements can justify a good portion of unethical behavior. If a student knowingly skirts certain provisions but believes him or herself to be in the right, would this position affect given answers? Rutgers management professor Donald McCabe, one of the study's organizers, speculated that the objective, number-oriented nature of business education allows for greater academic manipulation. Cheating may indeed prove difficult among subjective, analysis-based areas of study that involve more research and writing. Beyond direct plagiarism and invented statistics, students completing research or creative writing theses find fewer opportunities to cheat. According to McCabe, the declining integrity of the business world at large may factor into these numbers after all:

The "more important and more discouraging" explanation he hears from students is that "they're just emulating the behavior they see out in the business world." There, they say, "it doesn't matter how you get it done. The key thing is to get it done."

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