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Dissertation Abstract

Enhancing Public Trust in the Accounting Profession: Using Professional Judgment Rather Than Personal Judgment in Resolving Accounting Ethics Dilemmas

Gene R. Sullivan
Regent University

This dissertation empirically examined the impact of ethics instruction and ability on students' propensity to use professional judgment in resolving accounting ethics dilemmas. The literature has supported the need for increased ethics instruction in accounting programs as a vehicle to improve ethical decision making in the accounting profession. The significance of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA; 2004) Code of Professional Conduct as the profession's source of authority relative to ethical decision making was documented. The Code emphasizes three trust characteristics (ability, benevolence, and integrity) identified in the literature that are important relative to enhancing public trust in the accounting profession. Ability is important to ethics instruction as it determines the extent to which students acquire a working knowledge of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct Provisions. The ethical norms contained in the Code's provisions are derived from the underlying ethical decision-making characteristics inherent in the accounting profession's organizational culture. These ethical decision-making characteristics relate to an individual's ethics system, ethics application perspective, moral reasoning perspective, and level of moral reasoning. The literature has supported a deontological ethics system, holistic ethics application perspective, orthodox moral reasoning perspective, and conventional level of moral reasoning as appropriate for ethical decision making in the accounting profession. All of these ethical decision-making characteristics point to the use of professional judgment rather than personal judgment in the resolution of accounting ethics dilemmas. The primary goal of this dissertation was to obtain reliable data regarding the impact that ethics instruction, in the form of a 4-hour ethics symposium concerning the provisions of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, and level of ability have on accounting students' use of professional judgment. A demographic questionnaire and a pretest/posttest, using the Index of Ethical Congruence, were administered to junior and senior accounting students. The Wilcoxon T-test revealed that a statistically significant difference existed in students' use of professional judgment before and after exposure to ethics instruction concerning the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. It also showed that students with higher levels of ability demonstrated greater increases in the use of professional judgment than students with lower levels of ability.