MBAs v felons

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Tue Feb 9 08:10:40 PST 1999

Chronicle of Higher Education - web daily - Tuesday, February 9, 1999

Study Finds a Striking Similarity in Ethics of Inmates and MBA Students By KATHERINE S. MANGAN

Companies looking for ethical employees might be better off interviewing in the local prison than the local business school, a new study concludes.

It's not that M.B.A. students are sleazy -- it's just that convicted felons who are enrolled in college programs are more upstanding than one might expect, the authors found.

Two marketing professors -- James Stearns of Miami University and Shaheen Borna of Ball State University -- interviewed 300 incarcerated felons taking part in college programs at three minimum-security prisons in the Midwest. They compared their responses with those from an earlier survey of students at 11 M.B.A. programs.

They found that the inmates showed just as much integrity as the business students, and sometimes more, when faced with difficult business dilemmas. Among the specific findings:

* Inmates were less likely than M.B.A. students to "pirate" employees with specific, valuable skills from competing companies.

* They were also more likely to follow orders in ethically difficult situations, regardless of whether the outcome was positive or negative.

* Inmates were more concerned with customer service, while M.B.A. students worried more about pleasing company stockholders.

The two professors said they hoped their findings would encourage more businesses to give ex-cons a chance.

"The perception is that convicted felons are unemployable because they adhere to a different set of values," said Mr. Stearns. "Yet, they must have employment to remain viable in society. This research shows their values are not that much different. And, in some situations, their values are more laudable."

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