Moral accountability in the MBA : a Kantian response to a public problem

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We live in an age of public accountability. For university-based business schools, housed within institutions with responsibilities for fostering public wellbeing, public accountability represents major challenges. The specific challenge of this dissertation is interpreting that accountability in moral, as opposed to legal or bureaucratic terms. Much of the academic attention to public accountability has focused on the legal aspects of compliance and regulation. The systemic nature of the educative-formative problem of moral accountability argued herein is especially evident inside postgraduate management education. I argue that nascent ideas of moral accountability foreground a systemic and inescapable challenge to the legitimacy of the now ubiquitous Masters of Business Administration (MBA) within university based management education. Illustrating the formative-educative problem via a case study at an Australian university and drawing on a critical review of the management studies literature I argue that current approaches to meeting those public responsibilities are at risk of being marginal at best. This is a view increasingly recognised by those within the management studies field already committed to redressing amoral management theory and practice. Efforts to professionalise management by bringing management studies inside universities have long been abandoned in favour of following market logic - a predominantly financially driven logic that is formatively amoral - thus exposing universities' moral legitimacy to rising public skepticism, if not acute and justifiable concern. Beyond the professionalisation efforts and the compliance mentality of corporate governance and against the commonplace smorgasbord approach to business ethics (foreclosing engagement with larger and relevant political, ethical and philosophical dimensions) I argue for cultivating a specific capability for management graduates - one area that will yield considerable philosophical scope and pedagogical options while meeting the university's public responsibility. I make a case for cultivating reflective judgment on matters of moral accountability {and specifically at the individual level} as a defining capability in management studies - a capability that is worthy of public trust in universities. To that end I argue for a Kantian approach to cultivating reflective moral accountability. The scope of this approach is global, the mode is action-guiding principles under public scrutiny, where reverence for individual human dignity is at its base: a civic or enlightened accountability, oriented to earning and warranting public trust, by individuals and through institutions. Kantian hope in a cosmopolitan ethical commonwealth sustains practical-idealist commitment to cultivating this capability. This Kantian approach is shaped by Kant's grossly under-recognised moral anthropology: a composite of a modest metaphysical framework of justice intersecting with his almost completely ignored philosophy of experience / anthropology. The pedagogical approach developed here is based on Kant's moral anthropology and notion of maturity. It is oriented to deeply experiential organic learning as university-based preparation for reflective moral judgment in pressured, complex situations of uncertainty. The aim here is fostering ideas on approaching what is problematic not to develop a comprehensive theory of moral accountability in the MBA. Taken together this Kantian response sees paideia as central to the public role of university education, and as such represents a radical challenge to seemingly unassailable assumptions of authority in management theory and practice. I follow a phronesis approach in this research, a perspective on knowledge that views the social sciences as categorically different from the natural sciences, calling less for universal laws and more for knowledge drawing on wisdom and moral judgment derived through extensive experience. Flyvbjerg's phronetic approach to the social sciences guides the case study, influences the selection of perspectives in both the literature review and the Kantian considerations. I approach this educative-formative problem out of liberal-humanist, social-contract traditions.
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