"In that statement, this oath has ceased to be an oath advocating capitalism," Mr. Hammons says. "It means that my individual pursuit of happiness is not ethical." The notion of the "greater good" has too often been abused, he says, citing the Cultural Revolution in China as one example.
Such dialogue highlights "a deep fundamental difference about what the purpose of the corporation is and whether it has any responsibility to society other than maximizing profits," says Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard business professor whose writings on professionalizing management have informed the student oath. It will take this kind of pressure, he says, for business schools to shift curriculum and practices to emphasize different values.
Business schools have ramped up ethics courses, in part in response to scandals such as the Enron debacle. These courses are a start, but they often stick to basic case studies, says Lawrence Belcher, a finance professor at the Stetson University School of Business Administration in DeLand, Fla. "Now, there's been a wake-up call for a lot of business schools to say, ‘We really need to have these discussions in a broader context ... [to consider] problems when managers and shareholders have different goals.' "
The MBA oath reminds people that despite the high-profile ethical lapses of late, "there are tons of financial advisers [and] analysts who go to work every day and perform necessary services that do create value," Professor Belcher says.