I had the wonderful experience of addressing all the students enrolled in the highly esteemed Accounting Scholars Program at the University of North Texas. The students accepted into this coveted program will receive both their B.S. and M.S. degrees in accounting, with these graduates then being heavily recruited by the finance and accounting industries.
The ethics students develop now will affect their actions in the workforce. As Professor Madhuri Bandla emphasized to the students, ethics and integrity are absolutely essential to the accounting profession. Sharing my experience and the actions I have witnessed is my way of helping those essential features become part of a young accountant’s education.
In my address, “Through the Eyes of a Whistleblower,” we discussed how breakdowns in ethics had enabled massive frauds in banking and the financial services industry as well as government coverups, thus ensuring that no one would ever be held accountable for these horrible crimes. These widespread frauds caused the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in ruining the lives of many millions of people who lost their homes, pension funds, and livelihood. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission even asked me to change my testimony before presenting it.
We discussed how vitally important it is that they work for ethical companies and to ask questions when they see questionable behavior, because that gives the company an opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue with the individual and perhaps address the situation observed.
But I warned the students that if they ask questions about a situation and then get the feeling that perhaps they should not have said anything, then they should quietly start looking for another job with another company. They should get the heck out of there!
And we discussed real examples of employees who raised issues that were not addressed, but nonetheless stayed with the company, and who suffered painful consequences. It is always a pleasure to speak to college students about the importance of ethical behavior in all settings, in personal, corporate and government. These young scholars are truly the future of our country and are our only hope to reverse the downward slide of ethics in our country.