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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Strategic CSR - Business Schools

This will be the last CSR Newsletter of the Fall semester.
Have a great holiday break and I will see you in January!
The article in the url below is a review of a recently published book by William Deresiewicz titled Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. The book records the effect on students of a higher education system that is defined by merit and intense competition among students who are forced to emphasize resume-building above all else:
"For William Deresiewicz the rat race for college admissions—and, later, for entry into the top banks and law firms—has robbed these ultra-high achievers of their passion, intellectual curiosity, purpose and depth. Students today, he suggests, regard their education at elite institutions not as an opportunity to develop their character, but as just another credential, 'an algorithm to be cracked in order to get to the next level,' as one graduate of Deerfield Academy told the author. They chase 'success' with no greater purpose to guide them. And the universities they attend, which regard them increasingly as customers rather than students, do little to provide one."
As a result:
"Beyond their glowing transcripts and the fact that they have become 'accomplished adult-wranglers,' these students are anxious, depressed and searching for some deeper meaning in their lives. … A Yalie put it more succinctly: 'I might be miserable, but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale.'"
Rather than focus on the students, however, I was drawn to the role played by colleges in creating and maintaining this soul-destroying process:
"The author chronicles the gradual process by which the traditional liberal arts education that was once a staple of these schools has given way to the research university agenda, where 'fragmentation and specialization' define the curriculum. Rather than being taught the accumulated wisdom of the past through the great books, students now select from a bland a la carte menu of 'distribution requirements' that leave them without a holistic understanding of the debates and issues that shaped the culture they now live in."
The same fragmentation is characteristic of business schools. It seems, in many cases, that the starting point for curriculum development is bottom-up, rather than top-down. By this, I mean that each Department decides how it should teach its particular functional area (marketing, finance, operations, etc.) independently of the other functional areas. A more useful approach would be for the business school as a whole to define its primary purpose as addressing the question: What is the role of the for-profit firm in society? Once the faculty as a whole had sketched out the parameters of how they wanted to answer that question, then individual departments could define how their function should be taught in order to help achieve that broader goal—i.e., how marketing, finance, operations, and so on, can help the firm achieve the role the faculty as a whole think it should be filling. The resulting curriculum/set of courses would be unified and complementary, rather than idiosyncratic and disjointed. Without such a discussion, however, there is little over-arching structure or purpose to the students' business education. In theory, we set ourselves up to train the managers of the future; in reality, we teach them how to perform various tasks (marketing, finance, operations, etc.) with little concern as to whether those tasks add-up to a sum that is greater than the parts. In short, at present:
"Nothing adds up … because nothing is designed to add up."
Happy Holidays!
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Book Review: 'Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite' by William Deresiewicz
By Emily Esfahani Smith
August 20, 2014
The Wall Street Journal