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Academic Dishonesty of MBA Students.

INTRODUCTION

Understanding the relationship between moral values and academic dishonesty has many advantages for universities worldwide. For example, studying academic dishonesty of students from various universities is vital for academicians and administrators to capitalize on positive values and safeguard against potentially unethical behaviors. A greater understanding of how personal moral philosophies influence academic dishonesty will allow universities to develop better moral strategies. Studying the relationship between moral values and academic dishonesty sheds light on how to teach ethics more efficiently. It helps academicians to match the amount and content of ethics teaching to students' moral orientations. This study examines the relationship between Forsyth's (1992) two dimensions of moral ideologies and the four dimensions of Rawwas and Isakson's (2000) attitudes toward academic dishonesty model. Rawwas and Isakson's academic dishonesty model measures students' degree of rejection of various forms of collegiate cheating along four dimensions.

Forsyth (1992) hypothesized that moral philosophy has two dimensions: idealism and relativism. Moral relativism refers to the degree to which students believe that moral rules are not derived from universal principles but exist as a function of time, culture, and place. Moral idealism refers to the degree to which students focus on the inherent rightness or wrongness of an action regardless of the consequences of that action. Many researchers found that idealism and relativism are important in evaluating moral discrepancies between individuals (Al-Khatib, Vitell, and Rawwas 1997). Rawwas (1996) found that ethical ideology is a significant determinant of ethical beliefs. Al-Khatib, Dobie, and Vitell (1995) concluded that moral ideology influences perceptions of the "rightness" and "wrongness" of the action under question. They found that consumers who score high on idealism are less likely to engage in questionable activities than consumers who score high on relativism. Vitell and Singhapakdi (1993) found that moral philosophies partially explain ethical judgments and deontological norms. Vitell and Singhapakdi found that more idealistic and less relativistic marketers tended to exhibit higher honesty and integrity than less idealistic and more relativistic marketers. Erffmeyer et al. (1999) found an inverse relationship between idealism and engagement in unethical behavior. Kenhove, Vermeir, and Veniers (2001) found a positive relationship between idealism and ethical beliefs. Rawwas et al. (1995) found that consumers who score higher on idealism are inclined to view all types of questionable consumer actions as less moral than those who score lower on idealism.

In summary, this study has three objectives. First, it explores the moral philosophies of MBA students along the two dimensions of Forsyth's model. Second, it studies the academic dishonesty of MBA students along the four dimensions of Rawwas and Isakson's model. Third, this study explores the relationship between moral philosophies and academic dishonesty.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES

Academic Dishonesty

Academic dishonesty, which includes activities from wrongfully getting information by looking at a neighbor's test to plagiarizing information in a term paper, is a growing problem and concern for higher education (Rawwas, Al-Khatib, & Vitell 2004). McCabe, Butterfield, and Trevino (2006) found that more than half of college students in the United States and Canada admit to some form of academic dishonesty, at least once during the course of their programs. A 1999 U.S. News & World Report poll found that 64% of college students engage in academic dishonesty. Similarly, a survey conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity (http://www.academicintegrity.org) reports that "on most campuses, over 75% of students admit to some cheating." Even Texas A&M University with their Aggie Honor Code found similar levels of cheating. Other studies have indicated that between 40% and 60% of students admit to academic dishonesty on at least one exam. As students continue to face various sources of pressure from family, potential employers, and others to achieve higher grades, and as the economic situation continues to hold fewer employment prospects for college graduates, academic dishonesty is likely to continue to be an issue of concern. Furthermore, academic dishonesty among today's students may have far-reaching effects on their future ethical behavior as they assume different roles in the business world. Previous research has considered academic dishonesty to be the equivalent of business and/or organizational wrongdoing. The rationale is that cheating on a paper is the college equivalent to misreporting time worked. The core of both activities is essentially to gain a reward for work that was not accomplished. Students exchange fake papers for higher grades in much the same way a business person might exchange forged reports for a promotion.

Many researchers found that unethical business practices severely hurt companies, stakeholders, and competition. Marketing is considered the most unethical business function, and many marketing practices have been criticized by various consumer groups. Therefore, marketing students who will become marketing professionals need to be prepared for better ethical conduct in their marketing professions via suitable ethical training. Marketing students perceive the level of marketing ethics education as less than adequate and insist that a marketing ethics course should be required. As a result, many business schools have added a mandatory ethics course to their degree programs mainly in response to the pressure put forth by the AACSB. Still, researchers continue to find crisis of ethics education in business schools and the business community.

Personal Moral Philosophies

Forsyth (1992) identified two distinct dimensions of moral philosophy: idealism and relativism. Moral idealism refers to the degree to which a person focuses on the inherent rightness or wrongness of an action regardless of the consequences of that action. Moral idealists take the position that harming others is universally bad and should be avoided. However, those who are less idealistic think that harm is sometimes necessary to produce good results. They tend to take a more utilitarian perspective, perceiving that an act is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people affected by the action, even though it may be harmful to a certain group.

Moral relativism, on the other hand, is the degree to which an individual rejects universal moral rules when making ethical judgments. Relativism suggests that moral rules cannot be derived from universal principles, but exist as a function of time, place and culture. Moral relativists do not accept universal moral rules in making moral judgments; instead, they often rely heavily on the situational circumstances, feeling that what is moral depends on the nature of the situation, the prevailing culture and the individuals involved. In contrast, people who are low in relativism argue that morality requires acting in ways that are consistent with moral principles, norms or laws. They maintain strict adherence to general moral principles (Forsyth 1992).

Many researchers have established that idealism and relativism are important in evaluating moral discrepancies among various groups (e.g., students, consumers, and marketers) (e.g., Al-Khatib, Vitell, & Rawwas 1997). Al-Khatib, Dobie and Vitell (1995) concluded that moral philosophy influences one's perceptions of the "rightness" and "wrongness" of the action under question. Rawwas (1996) found that moral ideology is a significant determinant of ethical beliefs, while Vitell and Singhapakdi (1993) discovered that moral philosophies partially explain ethical judgments and deontological norms. Furthermore, Vitell, Lumpkin, and Rawwas (1991) substantiated that moral ideology is a significant overall determinant of consumers' ethical beliefs.

Many empirical studies have suggested that idealism is associated with greater morality, and relativism is associated with lower ethicality (e.g., Kenhove, Vermeir, & Veniers 2001). For example, Erffmeyer, Keillor, and LeClair (1999) showed that idealistic Japanese consumers were the least likely to engage in questionable activities. Singhapakdi et al. (1999) demonstrated that Malaysian consumers who scored low on idealism and high on relativism were less sensitive to unethical marketing practices. Finally, Swaidan, Vitell, and Rawwas (2003) confirmed that consumers who score high on the idealism scale are more likely to reject questionable consumer activities. These theory and findings suggest an inverse relationship between idealism and academic dishonesty and a direct relationship between relativism academic dishonesty. This means that idealist MBA students will reject academic questionable practices more than relativist MBA students. Based on the above literature review, theory, and empirical research, we hypothesize a negative relationship between idealism and academic dishonesty and positive relationship between relativism and academic dishonesty.

H1a: Idealism is a negative determinant of RAD. H1b: Relativism is a positive determinant of RAD.

H2a: Idealism is a negative determinant of OUA. H2b: Relativism is a positive determinant of OUA.

H3a: Idealism is a negative determinant of FI. H3b: Relativism is a positive determinant of FI.

H4a: Idealism is a negative determinant of IPP. H4b: Relativism is a positive determinant of IPP.

METHODOLOGY

Sample

The data used in this study was collected from professional MBA students in the USA using online surveys. The result was the gathering of a sufficiently large and demographically diverse sample. The final sample consisted of 540 respondents. The sample is generally mature, with 52.1 percent being 30 years old and over. Slightly larger percentage of the participants are females (52.9 percent), and 72.3 percent of the participants have a household income of $45,000 or more. Finally, 61.7 percent of the sample are either married were married. Most of the sample (69.4 percent) has less than 11 years of work experience. The majority of the sample (42.63 percent) are married for less than 10 years.

Measurement of Constructs

The survey was administered to professional MBA students online. The instrument consists of three parts: 1) a measure of the moral philosophies of respondents using the Ethical Position Questionnaire (EPQ) scale (20 items), 2) a measure of the attitudes toward academic dishonesty along the four dimensions of Rawwas and Isakson's (2000) academic dishonesty scale (24 items), and 3) a measure of the demographics of participants (7 questions).

Forsyth (1992) developed the EPQ that consists of two scales, each containing 10 items. The first scale measures idealism and the second measures relativism. Responses to the EPQ scales ranged from strongly disagree (coded 1), to strongly agree (coded 5). These scales have been shown to be reliable and valid in several studies (e.g., Rawwas 1996). Al-Khatib et al. (1995) published the 20 items of the EPQ. Forsyth (1992) concluded that the two scales that make up the EPQ were found to have adequate internal consistency, were reliable over time, were not correlated with social desirability, and were not related to scores on the Defining Issues Test. Responses to idealism statements are coded so that a high score denotes high idealism and low score indicates low idealism. Responses to relativism statements were coded so that a high score signifies high relativism and a low score indicates low relativism.

Rawwas and Isakson's (2000) attitudes toward academic dishonesty (ACD) scale was used to measure academic dishonesty. Rawwas and Isakson (2000) developed and validated their ACD questionnaire that measures academic dishonesty along four dimensions. The reliabilities and factor analysis have been satisfactory and consistent in studies performed with American and Chinese marketing students (Rawwas, Al-Khatib, & Vitell 2004). Rawwas, Swaidan, and Al-Khatib (2006) used the scale successfully to examine the academic dishonesty of Japanese students in religious and secular universities. Rawwas, Al-Khatib, and Vitell (2004) published the complete list of Rawwas and Isakson's scales on page 93. Factor analysis with varimax rotation in several studies (e.g., Rawwas, Al-Khatib, & Vitell 2004) identified four significant dimensions of ACD. The first dimension is "receiving and abetting academic dishonesty." The second factor, labeled as "obtaining an unfair advantage," arises when students engage in a shady situation. The third dimension, "fabricating information," happens when students use fake excuses to justify wrongdoings, such as "using a faked illness as an excuse for missing an exam." The last factor is labeled "ignoring prevalent practices." In the present study, responses to the four dimensions of the ACD scale range from strongly believe it is not wrong (coded 1), to strongly believe it is wrong (coded 5). ACD responses are coded so that a high score denotes strong rejection of academic dishonesty and low scores denote weak rejection of academic dishonesty.

RESULTS

Four regression models were used to test the hypotheses and to explore the relationship between moral philosophies and academic dishonesty. The idealism and relativism were the independent variables, whereas receiving and abetting academic dishonesty, obtaining an unfair advantage, fabricating information, and ignoring prevalent practices were the dependent constructs (Table 1).

The first equation studied the relationship between the two independent variables and receiving and abetting academic dishonesty (RAD). The two independent variables explained 3.3% of the variance of the RAD variable ([R.sup.2] = 0.033). The relationship between idealism and RAD is not significant. The relationship between relativism and RAD is significant. The direction of beta sign indicates a negative relationships between relativism ([beta] = -.181) and rejection of RAD activities. These results support hypothesis H1b.

The second equation examined the relationship between the two independent variables and obtaining unfair advantage (OUA). The two independent variables explained 8.9% of the variance of the OUA variable ([R.sup.2] = .089). Beta sign ([beta] = .263) reveals a direct relationship between idealism and rejection of OUA activities. Negative beta sign ([beta] = -.145) indicates that there is an inverse relationship between relativism and rejection of OUA activities. These results support hypotheses H2a and H2b.

The third equation tested the relationship between the independent variables and fabricating information (FI). The two independent variables explained 4.6% of the variance of the FI variable ([R.sup.2] = .046). The relationships between idealism and relativism, and FI are significant. The direction of beta sign indicates a direct relationship between idealism ([beta] = .130) and FI. Beta sign shows an inverse relationship between relativism ([beta] = -.162) and FI. These results support hypotheses H3a and H3b.

The fourth equation investigated the relationship between the independent variables and ignoring prevalent practices (IPP). The two independent variables explained 4.1% of the variance of the IPP variable ([R.sup.2] = .041). The relationship between idealism and rejection of IPP is significant. The direction of beta sign indicates a direct relationship between idealism ([beta] = 0.189) and rejections of IPP activities. The relationship between relativism and IPP variable is not significant. These results support hypothesis H4a and do not support hypothesis H4b.

In summary, these findings suggest positive relationships between idealism and rejection of questionable academic activities (OUA, FI, & IPP). This means that students who score higher on idealism reject questionable academic activities more than students who score lower on the same scale. On the other hand, students who score higher on relativism are less sensitive to questionable academic activities (RAD, OUA, and FI) than students who score lower on the same scale.

CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS

This study examines the relationship between moral philosophies and students' academic ethics. The findings, literature review and hypotheses provide some insights into how educators should teach academic ethics to various students. The roles moral philosophy plays on academic ethics shed light on how to teach ethics more efficiently. One promising approach to teaching ethics is to match the amount and content of ethics teaching to students' moral orientations. For example, students with tendencies toward high idealism and low relativism need to learn how to play leading roles as ethical models in real or virtual business settings because they tend to be more sensitive to unethical academic practices. They also need to learn how to handle less ethical partners and colleagues. In contrast, students with high relativism and low idealism scores need to learn more about the importance of ethics in business and society and the consequences of unethical academic practices both at the short term and at the long term.

Findings of this study confirmed that students who score lower on the relativism scale reject questionable activities more than their counterparts who score higher on the same scale. These findings have academic implications. For example, universities that deal with relativist students may need to adapt their academic strategies to handle the unique characteristics of these students. This may include adding more ethics courses, adding more ethics content to current courses, and/or adding more ethics training to handle these students. Such strategic adaptations may influence all the academic mix variables including programs offering, pricing, promotion and delivery.

This study found that relativism is a direct predictor of academic dishonesty. These findings support the likelihood that academic dishonesty of relativist students may depend on the situational circumstances. Thus, these students will often base their ethical decisions on situational factors. This finding has an important strategic implication in that academicians may find it more difficult to predict or control the ethical behavior of high relativist students. Academicians should not give the chance to relativist students to cheat. Faculty who teach relativist students need to focus more on the value of ethical practices in their classes.

REFERENCES

Al-Khatib, J. A., Dobie, K., & Vitell, S. J. (1995). Consumer ethics in developing countries: An empirical investigation. Journal of Euro-Marketing, 4(2), 87-109.

Al-Khatib, J. A., Vitell, S. J., & Rawwas, M.Y.A. (1997). Consumer ethics: A cross-cultural investigation. European Journal of Marketing, 31(11/12), 750-767.

Erffmeyer, R. C., Keillor, B. D., & LeClair, D. T. (1999). An empirical investigation of Japanese Consumer ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 18(1), 35-50.

Forsyth, D. R. (1992). Judging the morality of business practices: The influence of personal moral philosophies. Journal of Business Ethics, 11(5/6), 461-470.

Kenhove, P. V., Vermeir, I., & Verniers, S. (2001). An empirical investigation of the relationships between ethical beliefs, ethical ideology, political preference and need for closure. Journal of Business Ethics, 32(4), 347-361.

McCabe, D. L., Butterfield, K. D., & Trevino, L. K. (2006). Academic dishonesty in graduate business programs: Prevalence, causes, and proposed action. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(3), 294-305.

Rawwas, M.Y.A. (1996). Consumer ethics: An empirical investigation of the ethical beliefs of Austrian consumers. Journal of Business Ethics, 15(9), 1009-1019.

Rawwas, M.Y.A., Patzer, G. L., & Klassen, M. L. (1995). Consumer ethics in cross-cultural settings: Entrepreneurial implications. European Journal of Marketing, 29(7), 62-78.

Rawwas, M.Y.A., & Isakson, H. (2000). Ethics of tomorrow's business managers: The influence of personal beliefs and values, individual characteristics, and situational factors. Journal of Education for Business, 75(6), 321-330.

Rawwas, M. Y. A., Al-Khatib, J. A., & Vitell, S. J. (2004). Academic dishonesty: A cross-cultural comparison of U.S. and Chinese marketing students. Journal of Marketing Education, 26(1), 89-100.

Rawwas, M. Y. A., Swaidan, Z., & Al-Khatib, J. A. (2006). Does religion matter? A comparison study of the ethical beliefs of marketing students of religious and secular universities in Japan. Journal of Business Ethics, 65(1), 69-86.

Singhapakdi, A., Rawwas, M. Y.A., Marta, J. K., & Ahmed, M. I. (1999). A cross-cultural study of consumer perceptions about marketing ethics. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 16 (3), 257-272.

Swaidan, Z., Vitell, S. J., & Rawwas, M. Y. A. (2003). Consumer ethics: Determinants of ethical beliefs of African Americans. Journal of Business Ethics, 46, 175-186.

Vitell, S. J., & Singhapakdi, A. (1993). Ethical ideology and its influence on the norms and judgments of marketing practitioners. Journal of Marketing Management, 3(1), 1-11.

Ziad Swaidan, University of Houston-Victoria
Table 1: Regression Analysis Results

                              Independent Variables
Dependent Variable            (beta coefficients)    [R.sup.2]    F
                              Idealism  Relativism

Receiving and Abetting        .013      -.181 (*)      .033      9.149
Academic Dishonesty (RAD)
Obtaining Unfair Advantage    .263 (*)  -.145 (*)      .089     26.203
(OUA)
Fabricating Information (FI)  .130 (*)  -.162 (*)      .046     12.810
Ignoring Prevalent Practices  .189 (*)   .034          .041     11.416
(IPP)

(*) p < .05
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Author:Swaidan, Ziad
Publication:Competition Forum
Date:Jul 1, 2018
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