An incoming 2010 Duke EMBA student has posted a critique of the MBA oath which reflects two common concerns that we have seen from MBAs regarding the oath.
At its core, the “MBA Oath” reads as if historically, the only reason that a person pursued an MBA was to become a better grifter. Someone proficient at stomping on subordinates, polluting the environment, and who would kick their Grandma down a flight of stairs just to make a buck…So as an incoming student, I will not be signing the “MBA Oath”, even though Duke Honor Code played a large part in my decision to attend. At best, it is redundant; at worst, it is dangerous in setting the expectation that anybody pursuing/possessing an MBA is someone to watch for unethical behavior.
We don’t intend for MBA Oath signers to be viewed as grifters restraining themselves from a “natural” set of unethical behaviors, just as doctors who have taken the Hippocratic Oath aren’t generally viewed as restraining a natural tendency to do harm.
That said, the MBA Oath is also born out of an environment that has shown that changes are needed in the management profession, and we hope MBAs can take the lead in driving those positive changes. The Oath is not a magic bullet or a vaccine against poor ethics or a lack of responsibility, but it is a public affirmation and a pledge to do better. As we’ve said earlier, affirmations themselves have been shown to be powerful, and we intend to offer mechanisms to help people live the Oath.
We also don’t think the Oath is redundant in the face of individual school honor codes. The Duke Honor code cited by the student in their blog post, for example, is primarily oriented towards actions during the MBA, while the MBA Oath pertains to actions taken by MBAs after graduating. Some schools, such as Columbia and Thunderbird, have codes and oaths which are outward looking. These various initiatives have played a part in setting the building blocks for the MBA Oath, and it is our intent to draw on that spirit of honor, professionalism, and ethics of all schools in order to promote an oath which can apply to all MBAs.