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Scott College of Business professor receives award for research

March 23, 2015

Teaching students to think through ethical dilemmas logically is Bill Wilhelm's specialty.

Now the professor of business education in Indiana State University's Scott College of Business is being recognized nationally for his research in the field.

Wilhelm will receive the 2015 Business Education Research Award for his paper, "We are Not Like Them - They are Not Like Us: Cultural Dimensions and Moral Reasoning in Thailand and the United States." The award presentation will take place at the Business Education Research Conference held in conjunction with the National Business Education Association Convention in Chicago on April 1. His paper will also be published in the Journal for Research in Business Education.

While on sabbatical last fall, Wilhelm served as visiting scholar at the faculty of political science and public administration at Chiang Mai University where he lectured and conducted research on cultural differences between Thai and U.S. populations and how cultural dimensions affect ethical decision making.

"I found that many Thai academics lecture about facts and often don't teach things about behavioral susceptibilities in ethical decision making, so to be able to teach about things that those students didn't have exposure to was a blast," he said. "You can't force people to be ethical, but you can teach people ethical reasoning."

Building on findings from his recent research in Thailand, Wilhelm and a colleague at Chiang Mai University have plans to examine how Thai people perceive giving and accepting bribes. Bribery is a big problem in Thailand and it is the focus and concern of the government and educational institutions.

"Your culture makes up your perspective of reality and you base your ethical decision making on your perspectives of reality. However our human susceptibilities to biases and shortcutting in-depth logical analysis can lead us to unethical decisions. I hope I gave the Thai students the tools to help them think through ethical dilemmas, which is something all people will deal with," Wilhelm said.

This was the first time research like Wilhelm's was conducted in Thailand. He translated a survey instrument that measures moral reasoning and a survey instrument that assess cultural dimensions into Thai for the first time with the help of Thai colleagues and a Thai student at Indiana State.

"I started this research in Thailand in 2011, and then piloted tested the translated instruments and found glitches," he said. "I then had more work to do on the instruments as far as language and cultural adjustments, and was able to pilot test the instruments a second time in Chiang Mai upon my return this past fall. After successfully testing the instruments, I gathered data about moral reasoning and cultural dimension among both Thai and U.S. undergraduates and graduates, which I'll be presenting in Chicago."

When Wilhelm first got to Indiana State in 2001 and began researching moral reasoning, there wasn't much of a focus on ethics until the failure of Enron.

"Then all the sudden business ethics became an important stream of research," he said. "I'm glad that, as a university, we require all students to take a foundational ethics course. I think it's a good thing to learn how to tackle ethical dilemmas with some framework to think things through analytically."

Ethics lessons, like Wilhelm offered last semester, are beneficial in a place like Thailand, where bribery and corruption are common.

"When there's bribery and corruption in public transactions, services and international trade, it's a warning flag to external investment sources," Wilhelm said. "U.S. companies that want to expand are cautious about going into a country with a lot of corruption because U.S. companies are bound by U.S. laws to not participate in bribery even though other local competitors might choose to do so. If they have rampant corruption proliferating throughout their economic system, it will have wealthy countries thinking twice before investing there, so it has to be tackled in Thailand and other countries."

Wilhelm and a Thai colleague are interested in further research of public sector corruption in Thailand.

"What I found out through my research is that the big difference between Thailand and the U.S. is that in Thailand maintaining the status quo is very common," he said. "If unethical practices hurt the little guy in our country, we speak up. Over there you often don't. You often accept unethical behavior - like bribery - as just the way things are done."

"In Thailand, people look at bribery as a value-added transaction, but is it ethical? Is the machinery of public service supposed to operate for the benefit of the citizens, or does it have to be oiled with money in the form of bribes?"

Contact: William Wilhelm, professor, department of management, information systems and business education, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University,

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or