Landing : Athabascau University

Ernst & Young fined $100 million after employees cheated in exams

Not just any exams: ethics exams.

These are the very accountants who are supposed to catch cheats. I guess at least they'll understand their clientele pretty well.

But how did this happen? There are clues in the article:

"Many of the employees interviewed during the federal investigation said they knew cheating was a violation of the company's code of conduct but did it anyway because of work commitments or the fact that they couldn't pass training exams after multiple tries." (my emphasis).

I think there might have been a clue about their understanding of ethical behaviour in that fact alone, don't you? But I don't think it's really their fault: at least, it's completely predictable to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how motivation works.

If passing the exam is, by design, much more important than actually being able to do what is being examined, then of course people will cheat. For those with too much else to do or too little interest to succeed, when the pressure is high and the stakes are higher, it's a perfectly logical course of action. But, even for all the rest who don't cheat, the main focus for them will be on passing the exam, not on gaining any genuine competence or interest in the subject. It's not their fault: that's how it is designed. In fact, the strong extrinsic motivation it embodies is pretty much guaranteed to (at best) persistently numb their intrinsic interest in ethics, if it doesn't extinguish it altogether. Most will do enough to pass and no more, taking shortcuts wherever possible, and there's a good chance they will forget most of it as soon as they have done so.

Just to put the cherry on the pie, and not unexpectedly, EY refer to the process by which their accountants are expected to learn about ethics as 'training' and it is mandatory. So you have a bunch of unwilling people who are already working like demons to meet company demands, to whom you are doing something normally reserved for dogs or AI models, and then you are forcing them to take high-stakes exams about it, on which their futures depend. It's a perfect shit storm. I'd not trust a single one of their graduates, exam cheats or not, and the tragedy is that the people who were trying to make them to behave ethically were the ones directly responsible for their unethical behaviour.

There may be a lesson or two to be learned from this for academics, who tend to be the biggest exam fetishists around, and who seem to love to control what their students do.



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