Posted by: Louis Lavelle on May 25, 2010
It looks like the MBA Oath, a controversial attempt to give the business world its own version of the Hippocratic Oath, may be suffering its first major defeat. The Community Blog at the Yale School of Management (Yale Full-Time MBA Profile) is reporting that an SOM Town Hall meeting ended without an endorsement of the oath. According to the post, “We didn’t reach a consensus, so we won’t join, nor formally oppose the Business Oath. Future classes may decide to take a stance, but for now, the conversation has begun, and individuals can sign or not sign as they see fit.” Bottom line: an oath that has been enthusiastically embraced by virtually every top b-school is getting a noncommittal shrug from Yale.
A lot’s been written about the oath movement, and nobody’s more guilty of contributing to the overkill than yours truly. We first wrote about the oath that originated at Harvard back in June. Two of the Harvard organizers, Humberto Moreira and Whitney Petersmeyer, took on their critics in an essay we published in December. And just a few days ago, Bloomberg News published an update on the movement and some of the controversy surrounding it. There’s also a book by two of the Harvard organizers, Max Anderson and Peter Escher, “The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders.” And that’s not even counting all the ink that’s been spilled over the The Oath Project, a separate (though similar) movement launched by a group that includes the World Economic Forum, the United Nations Global Compact, Net Impact, the Aspen Institute, and others.
It was the Oath Project that the Yale students were debating in their town hall meeting. According to the blog post, the students found a lot to applaud about the oath, including the idea that it could be the start of a large-scale reformation of business to be more socially responsible. But they also found some shortcomings, including the lack of an enforcement mechanism to punish violations of the oath, and the possibility that for some business schools and individuals it might turn out to be an empty gesture, “a convenient way to demonstrate ethics without taking the more difficult steps to actually reform their curricula or businesses.”
It’s worth noting that even though Yale hasn’t officially endorsed the oath, individual Yale SOM students have. It’s unclear how many have taken part in the Oath Project, but 11 have signed the Harvard MBA Oath, including a current student, a few from the Class of 2010, and grads from as far back as 1986. Nothing like the 828 from Harvard, but about on par with some other top schools. As of a few minutes ago, a total of 3,100 people have signed the oath.
I find all of this really interesting—the notion of management as a profession, the idea that an oath can be a way to accomplish that, and the debate over the oath’s legitimacy and power to change behavior. But frankly, I haven’t made up my mind about any of it. What’s everybody think about the developments at Yale? Is the oath movement in trouble? Or does it have momentum?