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Monday, January 23, 2012

Strategic CSR - Business schools

Last week’s issue of Businessweek contains two articles that appear on the surface to contradict each other. While one article appears to be criticizing business schools for failing to teach CSR sufficiently, the second article is celebrating the growing numbers of CSR and ethics-related classes available to students. The article in the first url below complains about how business schools need to do a better job of teaching CSR because:

Companies want graduates with a profit orientation alongside a CSR orientation.

While the demand for such students is there, however, the authors argue that business schools are failing to deliver the appropriately-trained graduates:

“…business schools just are not doing their teaching job very effectively. The sights are not set high enough. Business schools don’t act as if CSR were an integral part of accounting, finance, marketing, and so on. The practice of finance, for example, can have ethical and social implications every single day—so it needs to be taught that way. And business schools are not taking up the invitation from companies to help move CSR beyond the special departments they’re so often in, and into every department, every day. [Also] business schools aren’t focusing on the right students. Schools have tended to focus on the MBA level. But only about 30 percent of business school graduates in the U.S. are MBAs. We need to focus a lot more on the other 70 percent. Undergraduate business students are still forming their idea of what business is all about. Most undergraduate business programs are the last formal education that most students will get—which means this is our only shot to get them on the right track.

The article in the second url below, however, looks in detail at the growing number of business school elective classes that encourage students to study and work with nonprofit or humanitarian projects:

…electives are their opportunity to help business students see beyond the numbers, grow personally and professionally, and even wax philosophical. Electives … are a chance to do something a little out of the ordinary. When done well, say professors, electives can get students to work in ways they might not have imagined. There are a slew of MBA electives being offered at top B-schools—too many to name, in fact—that are designed to do just that, and make the world a better place in the process.

In reality, the articles complement each other and reveal the core problem with how business schools are currently approaching CSR. While the number of electives is increasing, compulsory core classes in CSR or, perhaps more importantly, integrating CSR throughout existing core classes, is much less common. The first article provides the solution to its own problem:

Make social responsibility part of every subject area in real time. Teach students exactly how social responsibility applies to, say, marketing at the very same time that you’re teaching them to be whizzes at applying all the other tools of that field—in the same class and at the same time as part of a fully integrated toolkit and thought system. They’re inseparable. Business schools fall short of their potential by separating the inseparable. Most say that teaching values is important, but their values don’t truly penetrate the DNA of the school. Adding an ethics class to a century-old business school program makes ethics marginal, not pervasive. Doing corporate citizenship as an intensive, inspiring orientation is terrific—but the impact is limited if it’s set aside once classes begin.

The penultimate sentence from this quote is central to this issue:

Adding an ethics class to a century-old business school program makes ethics marginal, not pervasive.

Take care

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Occupy Our Business Schools
Business schools need to do a better job of teaching corporate social responsibility. Step one: Make it an integral part of every teachable moment
By David L. Ikenberry and Donna Sockell

MBA Electives Offer Hands-On Learning
Business school electives have taken a turn for the creative, tackling everything from New York City's problems to health care to humanitarian relief
By Francesca Di Meglio