Academic Exchange Quarterly     Spring   2004    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume 8, Issue 1

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Ethics and Community in  Management Education


Rita Weathersby, University of New Hampshire

Judith White, University of Redlands


Rita Weathersby is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Management Department at the University of New Hampshire, where she teaches organizational behavior and leadership.  She has an Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Harvard University.


Judith White is Assistant Professor of Management at the School of Business at the University of Redlands, where she teaches business ethics, business and society and organizational behavior. She has a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Case Western Reserve University.



There is a crisis of legitimacy in management education.  Recent corporate scandals in the United States have raised issues concerning prevailing ethical standards as well as value conflicts in business. We argue that the management disciplines provide both foundations of social criticism and advocacy of value-congruent management behavior necessary to address these ethical issues. Because ethical behavior is grounded in community, we must deliberately build community in our classrooms and in academic institutions. Ethical communities of practice can revitalize management education.



Value Conflicts in Business Highlight the Need for Community

There is arguably a heightening crisis of legitimacy in management education.  In two studies, Rynes, Trank, Lawson and Ilies (2003) demonstrate a disturbing discrepancy between the strongly positive statements of corporate leaders about the importance of leadership, ethics, and interpersonal skills that are fostered by behavioral coursework in management and actual hiring decisions in students’ early careers.  There is compelling evidence that corporate recruiters evaluate resumes and make initial hiring decisions based almost solely on functional and technical courses in students’ resumes, despite their own and their company’s statements to the contrary   (Rynes, Trank, Lawson and Ilies, 2003.)  In these and other instances where corporate practices fail to follow the public ideals of corporate leaders, our students question the legitimacy of management coursework.


 Recent corporate scandals in the United States (e.g. Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco, and HealthSouth) have raised issues for scholars and managers alike concerning prevailing ethical standards and practices in fast-paced, competitive, business environments.  Our undergraduate and executive students are socialized in many ways throughout their lives.  They will not necessarily be influenced to engage in socially responsible business or effective management behavior as the result of a single course, or an entire MBA program.  However, the management disciplines provide foundations for social criticism and advocacy of value-congruent management behavior that offer complex views of these challenges and suggest remedies.  To the extent that what we research and teach is not valued or practiced in corporate life, we must scrutinize the validity of our knowledge base and the effectiveness of our pedagogical approaches.  Further, and very importantly, we must deliberately rebuild “community” in our classrooms and in the academic workplace.


“Community” has multiple meanings.  We are all embedded in multiple communities, some more central to us than others.  While community can be defined by locality, it most often means a collection of persons with common interests, usually occupational, professional or societal.  In this paper, we expand the view of common interests by defining “community” as heightened consciousness and behavior that connects us to each other and to our highest ideals.  We argue that, as management educators, we must transcend our collective socialization and the individualized culture of academic institutions to convincingly demonstrate the validity of our course content and scholarship. Community is the essential ground from which interconnectedness, trust, accountability and ethical behavior emerge; thus from which ultimate legitimacy is derived and maintained.


Community is Integral to the Management Disciplines

Globalization, with its advantages and drawbacks, has increasingly brought interdependence to a position of salience in the management disciplines.  At the beginning of the twenty-first century, our objectives are to teach current and future managers to communicate effectively, resolve conflict, be responsible and accountable to their organizations, develop trust and integrity as the foundations of leadership, work in teams, collaborate to solve problems and develop knowledge, embrace interdependence, and promote corporate social responsibility.  We teach behavioral skills and conceptual frameworks that foster mutual understanding, reciprocity, and acceptance of differences.  We discuss structures, norms and processes in organizations that promote learning, innovation, adaptation and transformation.  Increasingly, we teach concepts and disciplines for understanding the workplace as relational, holistic, and collaborative, beyond earlier mechanistic paradigms that are fragmented, rational, and competitive.


Our challenge as we teach both practicing managers and undergraduates is to capture the depth as well as the breadth of concepts, competencies, and applications.  For example, Argyris and Schon’s seminal work on organizational learning (1978) urged managers to learn to detect discrepancies between their espoused theories and their theories-in-use (e.g., their guiding values and what their behavior demonstrates to others) in order to develop mutually-held information for organizational improvement.  In a 25-year retrospective, Senge (2003) argues that Argyris and Schon’s concepts have had substantial impact despite ample evidence that their methods are rarely practiced.  The crux of the difficulty in implementation lies in the radical nature of the concepts and the level of commitment required of individuals and organizations.  To foster “organizational learning,” leaders must introduce and sustain norms and values that contradict prevailing organizational cultures. They must have a strong positive vision, advanced skills in change management, and, above all, integrity of effort.


Do we teach what is or what should be?  Our ethical quandaries often lie in the stance we take with respect to the legitimacy of our subject matter in relation to prevailing practices in business and public institutions. As management educators we have a dual obligation to understand managers’ complex situations as well as systematically challenge limiting assumptions, ineffectiveness, hypocrisy, and unethical practices.  Within a business school curriculum, there are few places other than in management courses to challenge the generally implicit assumptions of inherent morality in current management practice. Further, we have challenges that are systemic and deeply embedded in the ways business and education operate as cultural institutions (Rynes, et. al. 2003).


Ethical Behavior is Grounded in Community

Ethical behavior and morality are grounded in beliefs and values embedded in one’s community, culture, and society.  While ethics can be taught, (Piper, et. al., 1993) ethical behavior involves attitudes, values, thoughts, feelings, and actions, which are embedded in a sense of self in relationship to others.  If one feels related, connected, responsive, responsible, and caring of specific others and others in general, one is likely to act in an ethical manner. (Noddings, 1984.)  If “the other” is part of one’s community, it is more difficult to inflict harm.


As corporate ethics are increasingly problematic, faculty and administrators debate the place of ethics in the business curriculum. Is it best to add specific ethics courses or to infuse ethics throughout the curriculum? While curriculum revision is part of the solution, as faculty we need to recognize that while students may learn what we teach, they also learn from who we are and how we act in the milieu of the academic workplace.  Our values, attitudes and beliefs are conveyed to students whether we are conscious of it or not.  Students learn from what is omitted as well as what is emphasized.  When discussing a business case, for example, in which a company faces an environmental infraction, an emphasis on how the company can recover with the least amount of financial damage conveys the lesson that the bottom line result is most important.  By neglecting ethical implications, or not asking students to consider consequences to other stakeholders, or society, a professor implicitly and tacitly promotes individual and corporate self-interest above other values.


 We must reconsider what we wish most to convey because instruction in ethics will not result in managers with personal integrity if the socialization process to become a manager neglects “community” as the basis of ethical behavior. For example, a professor who speaks judgmentally of recent abuses by executives of Enron and Tyco is likely ineffective if he or she is simultaneously intimidating or verbally arrogant in interactions with students.  In contrast, the professor who demonstrates compassion in the classroom likely has greater credibility when discussing ethical ideals or models of corporate social responsibility. For these values to resonate with students, we must model high standards of professional ethics in classroom interactions as well as curriculum design. 


“Community” is Needed in Academic Institutions


 The management practices that we advocate for excellence in individuals and organizations are essential for educational institutions: shared vision, dialogue, conflict resolution, adherence to ethical standards, personal authenticity, and vigilance in distinguishing between espoused values and the impact of policies and procedures. Viewed critically, (Ferguson, 1984) academic life in business schools values competition, positivism, empiricism, status, hierarchy, power, prestige, and privilege.  Despite the stated values of most faculty and administrators, academic culture is undermined by perceptions of superiority, insecurity, power distance, and evaluation.  For students and faculty the need is to be smart, to know a lot, to be right, and to appear as extraordinary in others’ evaluations (Palmer, 1998.)  To the extent that these criticisms are accurate they represent norms that hinder ethical behavior, just as similar instrumental pressures discourage ethics in business.


Many academic institutions do not have the kind of culture and interpersonal relationships that support experiences of community because the academy as an institution reflects different organizational principles (Meyer and Rowan, 1983). A recent study of meaning and spirituality in the lives of college and university faculty (Astin and Astin, 1999) found that faculty experienced value conflicts and stress with regard to what might be seen as lack of community values.  For example, the peer review process for tenure was mentioned as a collegial source of stress, as was sacrificing personal research interests for research that met collegial approval. A college or university is a professional bureaucracy with multiple stakeholders and legitimately conflicting objectives.  Fragmentation and autonomy allow faculty maximum individual choice in the exercise of specialized expertise while tenured faculty have protection for expressing unpopular ideas. Those drawn to scholarship and teaching generally prefer to pursue their own ideas and interests while working independently.  Cooperative modes of learning and group performance are more difficult to sustain and hence less frequent.  Most of us must find our place within career systems based on individual achievement. Thus, we are likely to convey to our students unquestioned assumptions about the primacy of self-interest and achievement, more so than we, in fact, may believe.



Faculty and administrators need to focus on creating trusting relationships in academic institutions. - A recent survey of members of the Academy of Management (White, 2003) revealed an apparent breakdown of trust in areas of collegial relations, including publication review, co-authoring, tenure review, and the research process. [R.A.N.1]   While acknowledging the importance of agreed upon standards or a code of ethics, many members expressed skepticism about the viability of enforcing a code of ethical behavior within the Academy.  This is disturbing because trust is an essential building block of community and ethical behavior.


Ethical Communities of Practice Can Revitalize Management Education

The concept of a community of practice provides direction and hope in resolving our dilemmas.  For Wenger (1998) a “community of practice” is a group of people who are informally bound by what they do together in a joint enterprise.  Communities of practice are fundamentally self-organizing systems that develop around what matters to people.  They have a shared practice that is represented by a repertoire of shared sensibilities, vocabulary, and ways of approaching situations.  The specifics of shared practice are continually invented and renegotiated, producing unique capabilities over time.  This concept is neutral with respect to ideal values. It is a matter of socialization to the workgroup.  However, as management teachers and scholars, we can and should re-socialize ourselves toward enacting our highest ideals.


Responding to this imperative is possible because the ideals of community are strong in academic life, fueled by love of learning, pursuit of truth in one’s subject field, and positive experiences of colleagueship amid sometimes frustrating and negative experiences (Gersick, Bartunek & Dutton, 2000). For many of us teaching, research, and learning exist in community and sometimes require it. A classroom is a temporary community of individuals who are connected in time and space by the course structure. We belong to an unbounded community of scholars stretching globally across time and history. According to Pinchot (1998,) generosity is the defining principle of community in higher education.  Faculty “give” papers at academic conferences, for example, and one’s status generally depends on others’ assessments of contributions to one’s field.  Concluding his passionate book on the “courage to teach,” Palmer (1998) insists that faculty members become vocal members of “communities of congruence” to advocate educational reforms while simultaneously enacting the deep values that drew them to academic life.


International professional organizations such as the Academy of Management, the Organizational Behavior Teaching Society, the International Association for Business and Society, and others, develop communities of practice. Through professional meetings, journals and working committees, they promote the common, colloquial sense of the academic work community as an occupational group with shared interests and shared ethical standards.  Through both formal and informal professional activities they are deliberately positioned to spread the ideals and actuality of vibrant, ethical community among management educators.


A community of practice is real, although intangible, and crosses institutional borders.  Colleges and universities can support ethical practice through their extended networks of students, former students, corporate sponsors and stakeholders. Management schools whose stated mission includes the preparation of socially responsible managers and ethical business leaders can highlight these interdependencies in enacting their mission. Management departments can identify teaching and scholarship about ethics and value-based management as parts of their unique mission. Through service learning projects and field-based projects in public or social service agencies faculty can create connections with community for students and for their institutions.


Imperatively, we must apply to academic institutions the very management and ethical principles that we teach.  Bowman (2002) describes the rekindling of a spirit of organizational community at a mid-western state university using methodologies of dialogue, learning conversations, and self-managed faculty groups working as project teams across institutional boundaries.  Essential factors in building community were alterations in the university’s mission and organizational structure that fostered synergies of effort.  When faculty had opportunities to provide institutional service by sharing relevant, unique knowledge addressed to common goals, they created a revitalized academic culture of shared best practices, collaboration, and partnership.


In creating a new public university, California State University at Monterey Bay, the founding faculty were drawn to core values in its innovative mission to serve historically under served communities and students, including Hispanic and African-American communities.  Faculty worked hard to design academic structures and processes to accomplish the college’s service-related goals. For example, one university requirement is that students in all disciplines be able to analyze ethical problems, understand various approaches, and come to their own considered view of issues. Extensive faculty discussion and cross-disciplinary reviews of course syllabi support this objective.  Additionally, service to the community is a graduation requirement for all students (White, personal communication, 2004.)


Revitalizing “community” in academic life requires collective self-reflection. Faculty and administrators need to willingly and honestly look at their institutions and let the silent voices of dissent speak, understanding and embracing their concerns.  This involves discussing issues that are frequently un-discussable: perceptions of discrimination in promotions and tenure decisions, isolation of adjunct or untenured faculty, ethical dilemmas in teaching, research and scholarship, and other barriers to an ongoing and vital community of scholars.


Courage is required to create community, legitimizing the heart and emotions in our academic work.  Our challenge is to combine critical, cognitive analysis with a sense of community within the academy that breeds ethics of caring, respect and compassion towards others.  It has been said, “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.” (Achaan Chah in Kornfield and Breiter, 1985.)  To actualize academic community requires a personal, experiential perspective. To legitimize our scholarship and engage our students and ourselves more fully, we must embrace the challenge of modeling ethical community in management education.




Argyris, C. and D. Schon, 1978.  Organizational Learning:  A Theory of Action Perspective. 

Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Astin, A.W. and H. S.  Astin, 1999 (with A.L. Antonio, J. Astin, and C.M. Cress).  “Meaning and Spirituality in the Lives of College Faculty: A Study of Values, Authenticity, and Stress.” Higher Education Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles.  Available at, click on “resources.”


Bowman, R., Jr., 2002. “Building Community in Academia.” Contemporary Education, vol. 72, no. 1, 29-31.


Ferguson, K., 1984.  The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press.


Gersick, C .J., J. M. Bartunek, and J.E. Dutton, 2000.  “Learning from Academia:  The

Importance of Relationships in Professional Life.” Academy of Management Journal, vol. 43, no. 6, 1026-1044.


Kornfield, J. and P. Breiter, Eds., 1985. A Still Forest Pool. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.


Meyer, J. and B. Rowan, 1983.  “The Structure of Educational Organizations.” In Organizational Environments.  Meyer and Scott, Eds.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.


Noddings, N. 1984.  Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education.  Berkeley, CA.  University of California Press.


Palmer, P., 1998. The Courage to Teach:  Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Pinchot, G., 1998. “An Alternative to Hierarchy.” Leader to Leader, 10, 41-46.


Piper, T., M. Gentile, and S.D. Parks, 1993.  Can Ethics be Taught?  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.


Rynes, S.L., Trank, C.Q., Lawson, A.M., and Ilies, R., 2003. “Behavioral Coursework in Business Education:  Growing Evidence of a Legitimacy Crisis.” Academy of Management Learning and Education, vol. 2, no. 3, 269-283.


Senge, P., 2003.  “Taking Personal Change Seriously: The Impact of Organizational Learning on Management Practice.”  Academy of Management Executive, vol. 17, no. 2, 47-50.


Wenger, E., 1998.  Community of Practice, Learning, Meaning and Identity.  London:  Cambridge University Press.


White, J., 2003. “Ethics in the Academy: Members Speak.” Research in progress.


White, J.   2004.   Personal communication.  Professor White was a founding faculty member at California State University at Monterey Bay.



 [R.A.N.1]This is where an example could be added.