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Integrating ethics into the accounting curriculum.

All businesspeople have societal obligations that transcend their corporate obligations. CPAs' unique obligation to society is more specific than most: to be responsible for financial reporting to the public, which by law and society's expectation is a fiduciary obligation. Training people for that responsibility is an awesome task. It is tempting to teach accounting as a technical discipline, but we dare not succumb to that temptation lest our students be underprepared for their real challenge--applying their technical skills ethically for the benefit of society.

In response to concerns expressed by the National Commission on Fraudulent Financial Reporting and others about the paucity of ethics coverage in the accounting curriculum, schools are beginning to integrate ethics training into accounting, and ethics seminars have been conducted for accounting professors. Ethics cases are under development by the American Accounting Association and will challenge students to decide which resolutions provide the most balanced benefit for society, for the company and for their own personal integrity.

The cases and the seminars are important, but in the long run all of us who teach accounting must find ways to work the ethical dimension into all course work. Pension accounting must be understood, but we also must force our students to confront the ethics of selecting the necessary assumptions. The new cost accounting must be mastered, but we must ensure as well that our students see the ethical issues involved.

At one AAA seminar on ethics in accounting a participant said, "It's really simple. This program teaches accounting as having a human face." His sum-up is right, of course. Chief financial officers understand their companies's financial constituencies and CPAs understand the scope of their real clientele; in that understanding they know accounting's human face. We must help our students anticipate the human faces behind their technical work.

By ROBERT SACK, CPA, professor of accounting, The Darden School, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and a former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Enforcement.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Institute of CPA's
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Accounting Education
Author:Sack, Robert
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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