Whistleblowing in the Classroom: How Professor-Based Policies Enhance Student Reporting of Misconduct

Whistleblower programs have undoubtedly made their mark in the corporate sector, acting as a formidable tool in the fight against unethical behavior. Yet, when we pivot our attention to the academic realm, especially where student policies for reporting peer misconduct are concerned, a glaring gap emerges. F. Todd DeZoort’s enlightening research, published in the esteemed „Issues in Accounting Education“ journal on June 29, 2023, takes a daring leap into this uncharted territory. The study meticulously evaluates the potential repercussions of implementing a student whistleblower policy and its consequent effect on students‘ propensity to flag classmate misdeeds.

The experimental study encompassed a diverse group of 309 students, spanning both undergraduate and graduate cohorts. These students were part of a unique experiment where the origin of the whistleblower policy was manipulated to ascertain its impact. The outcomes were compelling, to say the least. A policy introduced by a professor directly to the students proved most efficacious, with these students demonstrating a heightened likelihood of reporting wrongdoing compared to their counterparts exposed to a university-led policy or no policy. Additionally, this group exhibited an unwavering faith in the policy’s pledge of confidentiality, emphasizing the paramount importance of trust in this delicate equation.

However, the study also unveiled some surprising revelations. Namely, the negligible difference in reporting likelihood between students introduced to a university-based policy and those devoid of any policy. This observation compels us to question the real-world effectiveness of broader, institution-led initiatives. Moreover, DeZoort’s research underscored the intrinsic link between the act of whistleblowing and the students’ ingrained sense of responsibility, suggesting that any successful policy must not only be well-framed but also instill a profound sense of duty within the students.

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