Business Week July 24, 2006 Up Front: ETHICS; Pg. 10 Vol. 3994

Business Week
July 24, 2006
Up Front: ETHICS; Pg. 10 Vol. 3994
The Devil Made Me Do It
By Romy Drucker
Edited by Deborah Stead
How do cheaters justify their actions? An article in an upcoming issue of
Business and Professional Ethics Journal offers some insights. Based on
responses from university students, the authors identify four ways that people
rationalize their unethical behavior: They distance themselves from the act,
blame someone else for it, redefine it as a good thing, or conclude that the
outcome (even a negative one) made cheating worthwhile.
Co-authored by three business professors at Iowa State University and their
former colleague Tim West (now at the University of Arkansas), the article stems
from a cheating incident experienced by West a few years ago, when he was a
visiting B-school professor at a university he declines to name. After assigning a
take-home test to the 64 students in his managerial accounting class, and
unaware that another professor had posted an answer key on the Web, he found
that at least two-thirds of his students had looked up the answers online.
(Visitors' Internet addresses could be tracked from the site.)
West scrapped the test results, then surveyed the cheaters about why they had
lifted their answers from the site. In their anonymous responses, some of those
students said they didn't usually cheat and were ``unsure'' if what they did was
dishonest. Others blamed West for giving a test whose answers were available.
Still others focused on the valuable ``lesson'' they learned. Then there were
those who cited the ``fact'' that ``everyone cheats'' and that ``this is how business
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