This summer, as incoming business-school students toiled over online math reviews and "Essentials of Accounting" workbooks, students at the State University of New York at Albany tackled a newly added prerequisite.
Students in the master's of business administration program were assigned a reading list of articles on corporate meltdowns such as those at Enron Corp., ImClone Systems Inc. and WorldCom Inc.
When school began, students broke into groups and deliberated the responsibilities of company management. At the end of the session, students crafted their own codes of professional conduct.
"We covered all kinds of ethical issues - whistle-blowing, codes of compliance and blind loyalty," says Paul Miesing, the management professor who led the discussions.
SUNY Albany isn't the only institution to revamp its programs in response to the recent deluge of corporate transgressors. Many of the nation's law and business schools have retooled orientation seminars, launched business symposiums on malfeasance and written case studies on law-breaking companies.
Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management in Ithaca, N.Y., will introduce a multiday executive MBA course to explore business and law, says Mike Hostetler, associate dean of executive education.
Columbia Business School in New York recently convened a committee of senior faculty to examine its ethics and corporate-governance curriculum. Professors have also incorporated the scandals into their lesson plans.
This month, students taking "Leading and Managing Organizations" dissected the unethical behavior of Enron and WorldCom leaders.
New York's St. John's University law school also addressed the scandals this month at its conference, "Enron and Its Aftermath."
But while these changes sound good in practice, whether they make a difference remains in question.
Michael Perino, a law professor at St. John's, thinks the new courses are having impact. "Students are at the formative stages of their careers," he says. "The lessons learned now will carry them through life."
He says the Enron symposium at the Jamaica, Queens, school, which covered government regulation and board independence, gave students "an appreciation of how far things can go wrong in the corporate setting and what they can do to respond."
While most professors and professionals say an academic emphasis in areas of corporate governance and accounting skulduggery is helpful, not all agree on the benefits of a professional conduct program.
David Schaefer, hiring partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb in New York, says ethics courses don't necessarily prepare students for tough work issues. "It's very abstract," he says. "Hopefully, this is something you don't have to learn in school."
Rick Matasar, dean and president of New York Law School, says: "The problem isn't with the education, it's the money. It's the temptation to do things that benefit the client and may be on the edge of illegal."