Recent media attention of Wall Street scandals has heightened awareness of ethics in the nation's business community.
And the University's Master of Business Administration has tackled ethical issues head on through the creation of the Penn State MBA Code of Ethics and a related honor council.
The code, which is the result of more than a year of well-documented research, addresses topics such as plagiarism, academic dishonesty, collaboration on projects and use of University property and computer software.
Signing the code pledge is voluntary and the University does not compile records of students who sign the pledge. Students who choose not to sign are still held responsible for their conduct under University policies.
Charles Maguire, administrative director of the MBA program, said about 95 percent of the 160 first-year MBA candidates signed pledge cards. Maguire said he anticipates a similar response from second-year candidates.
A five-member student honor council, as stipulated by the code, will serve as an advisory board and investigate reported code violations. The board will recommend appropriate action to the College of Business Administration graduate dean or relevant faculty members, according to the code handbook.
Maguire asserted the student-initiated code is a "proactive response to the issue of ethics, not a response to an unethical climate" in the program.
Linda Trevino, assistant professor of organizational behavior, and Renee Flemish, MBA alumna, also stressed the code as being "proactive." Maguire, Trevino and Flemish were members of the original committee that researched and drafted the code.
Most students responded positively to the code. Forrest Coley, a second- year MBA student, said any negative feedback may come from students who regard the code as a type of reprimand.
"It's not a slap on the hand," Coley added.
Coley said the pledge resembled one he took in tenth-grade biology in which he was required to write the word "pledge" at the top of each test to indicate honesty.
"It's understood that you're not going to cheat. It's a bad reflection on you, on the program and University. (The code) is a pledge of awareness," he said.
Trevino said the code and honor council establishes "a forum for talking about ethical issues."
Flemish predicted the code will benefit students academically, professionally and personally.
Currently working for AT&T, Flemish was "very impressed" during her first day of management orientation when presented with the company's code of ethics. The company has a comprehensive ethics program and legal department to answer questions about ethical conduct, she added.
On a smaller scale than AT&T's program, the honor council -- with advisers Maguire and Paul Rigby, associate dean in charge of research in graduate programs -- serves as an advisory board to students, faculty and administration. Outside of the bi-semester meetings, the council will meet as issues or violations arise.
"I wouldn't expect huge demands for issue resolution -- I'd hope not," said Tyler Brown, current chairman of the honor council.
Brown said the code has already had an affect on the MBA program.
"There's historical evidence, in terms of studies, that as soon as people consider the ethics of an issue, they modify their behavior," he added.