Teaching ethics - Accounting

Seven goals of accounting ethics education

Sep 6, 2021 - 16:20

Courses on this subject have grown significantly in the last couple of decades. Teaching accountants about ethics can involve role playing, lectures, case studies, guest lectures, as well as other mediums.

Recent studies indicate that nearly all accounting textbooks touch on ethics in some way. In 1993, the first United States center that focused on the study of ethics in the accounting profession opened at Binghamton University.

Starting in 1999, several U.S. states began requiring ethics classes prior to taking the CPA exam. In 1988, Stephen E. Loeb proposed that accounting ethics education should include seven goals (adapted from a list by Daniel Callahan).

To implement these goals, he pointed out that accounting ethics could be taught throughout the accounting curriculum or in an individual class tailored to the subject. Requiring it be taught throughout the curriculum would necessitate all accounting teachers to have knowledge on the subject (which may require training).

A single course has issues as to where to include the course in a student's education (for example, before preliminary accounting classes or near the end of a student's degree requirements), whether there is enough material to cover in a semester class, and whether most universities have room in a four-year curriculum for a single class on the subject.

There has been debate on whether ethics should be taught in a university setting. Supporters point out that ethics are important to the profession, and should be taught to accountants entering the field. In addition, the education would help to reinforce students' ethical values and inspire them to prevent others from making unethical decisions.

Critics argue that an individual is ethical or not, and that teaching an ethics course would serve no purpose. Despite opposition, instruction on accounting ethics by universities and conferences has been encouraged by professional organizations and accounting firms.

The Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) has called for students to "know and understand the ethics of the profession and be able to make value-based judgments."

Phillip G. Cottel argued that in order to uphold strong ethics, an accountant "must have a strong sense of values, the ability to reflect on a situation to determine the ethical implications, and a commitment to the well-being of others."

Iris Stuart recommends an ethics model consisting of four steps: the accountant must recognize that an ethical dilemma is occurring; identify the parties that would be interested in the outcome of the dilemma; determine alternatives and evaluate its effect on each alternative on the interested parties; and then select the best alternative.

What's Your Reaction?