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Guest Blog: Putting Substance Behind the Business School Oath

Posted by Samir Mehta on Fri, Feb 17 2012

oath of honor1 2009 resized 600Our latest guest blog is an article from the GMAC newsletter by Ron Alsop. As Thunderbird Online continues to grow in impact and scale, it is interesting to revisit the question of an Oath of Honor for students of business management. As education moves into more unconventional spaces, the idea of an oath to morally bind students to use their knowledge for honorable purposes is an important one. Ron’s article traces the history of the MBA oath from its conception by Dr. Angel Cabrera, then Dean of IE Business School, to present date where it has now become the new aspirational norm at Thunderbird, Harvard and a number of other leading business schools.

Many people believe the concept of an MBA oath grew out of the economic and financial crisis of 2008. Not so. I first wrote about an MBA oath nine years ago.

In my column back then for The Wall Street Journal, I interviewed Angel Cabrera, then dean of IE Business School in Madrid, who had drafted a proposed student oath promising commitment to environmental and social responsibility. “I believe that swearing to behave in an ethical fashion in front of your family and peers will make you come away feeling, ‘Boy, do I have a responsibility!’ ” Cabrera told me.

Some critics scoffed at the notion of an oath for managers modeled after the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, calling it toothless and unnecessary. Deans of a few major business schools didn’t believe MBA students would—or even should—recite such an oath. But Cabrera persevered. In 2004, he assumed the presidency at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he, along with students and faculty, integrated an Oath of Honor into the MBA program. It became part of the admission application, the curriculum, and the commencement ceremony.

Cabrera continued to promote the oath, but it took one of the worst financial crises, plus a big name like Harvard, to get the world’s attention. After some Harvard students wrote an MBA Oath in 2009, the media took notice, and MBAs at other schools jumped on the bandwagon.

The flurry of publicity has subsided, but the backers of a professional oath for business school graduates remain committed to spreading the word. “We’re still not where we want to be,” Cabrera says. “We’d like to get both more schools and companies to adopt the oath.” Later this year, he’ll get the chance to try to incorporate the oath at George Mason University in Virginia, when he becomes its president.

Oath Project Connects Multiple Efforts

There are multiple oaths out there now, all of which call for ethical conduct and a sense of social responsibility. Most are connected through an umbrella organization called the Oath Project. Housed at Thunderbird, the Oath Project recently launched a new website that explains its mission and lets people sign its oath, which is virtually identical to the one created by the Harvard students.

Thunderbird’s Oath of Honor is more concise than the others, while the language is a bit different in the Global Business Oath, written by the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders group. Meanwhile, students and alumni at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario not only pledge to act with integrity, but they also receive a ring symbolizing their commitment.

To learn more, view the rest of the article.

Thunderbird Professional Oath of Honor

As a Thunderbird and a global citizen, I promise:
I will strive to act with honesty and integrity,
I will respect the rights and dignity of all people,
I will strive to create sustainable prosperity worldwide,
I will oppose all forms of corruption and exploitation, and
I will take responsibility for my actions.
As I hold true to these principles, it is my hope that I may enjoy an honorable reputation and peace of conscience.
This pledge I make freely and upon my honor

This Thunderbird Oath of Honor ties in directly with the Thunderbird Online Executive Certificate in Global Corporate Social Responsibility by learning how to manage a socially responsible organization and be the most effective citizen in your global economy.  This professional development program empowers individuals to understand sustainability as a growth driver, and manage sustainability pressures relating to human rights, development, and global corruption.

Learn more about the Thunderbird Oath of Honor.

Tags: Thunderbird School of Global Management

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