My friend and former colleague, Eli Cox, a distinguished professor of marketing at UT-Austin for more than 40 years, has made a wonderful contribution to business ethics education by writing Seeking Adam Smith: Finding the Shadow Curriculum of Business. His book diagnoses perhaps the major shortcoming in ethics education across business schools today and nicely complements Duff McDonald’s The Golden Passport, a wide-ranging history of the Harvard Business School.
McDonald shows how one prominent business school failed in many areas, but especially in teaching ethics. Cox shows how many business schools failed in one very important area—teaching ethics. And he identifies a cause that he terms “the shadow curriculum” that unintentionally undermines ethics education and the subsequent ethical choices that our students will make. The shadow curriculum stems from neoclassical economics which, Cox argues, “has served as a Trojan Horse introducing and giving credibility to a political ideology undermining” ethics education in business schools.
John Kenneth Galbraith once noted that “[t]he modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” Cox shows in somewhat distressing detail that business school professors, their students, and their ex-students working in the finance field and others have not been well served by this shadow curriculum. Nor has our economy.
Michael Jensen, as responsible as anyone for the damage inflicted by the overly simplistic shadow curriculum has, late in his career, “discovered” the importance of integrity to the functioning of a healthy economy. Eli Cox has known that for 40 years and his book is an important read for anyone interested in teaching ethics, especially in a business school. And while you’re at it, feel free to read Jensen’s new, enlightened contribution to business education, Putting Integrity Into Finance: A Purely Positive Approach, in the journal Capitalism & Society (2017). It’s never too late.