Business Schools Place Greater Emphasis on Ethics and Globalization

May 12, 2010

As the economy struggles to recover, business schools are taking a new look at how they develop their courses and curriculums. In effort to prevent another meltdown from occurring, these programs are placing more emphasis on concepts such as sustainability, innovation and globalization while also offering more opportunities for true coloration between business majors and other majors within the university setting.

“When we bring students into business school, we narrow their vision,” said Stephen Spinelli, who is the president of Philadelphia University, in a USA Today article when discussing the traditional method for teaching business school students. “We teach them to focus on increasing blinders until they have pinpoint recognition, but that limits what they can see on the periphery.”

Today, Spinelli maintains that broadening the vision of business school students is the key to preventing another crisis from occurring.

“If we don’t teach people to sort of look around and have greater peripheral vision, then we’ve just set ourselves up for the next crisis,” he says.

With a planned revamp of the University’s MBA program, Spinelli is certainly doing more than giving lip action. In fact, in the fall of 2011, the program will place an emphasis on collaborating with the university’s design and engineering schools. As such, business school students can anticipate working on hands-on projects with students from other fields rather than just those who are pursuing degrees in other business-related areas.

“We used to think it was highly collaborative when marketing and finance were working together,” said Spinelli. “Now we see that partnerships need to be much broader; three-dimensional collaboration needs to be taught.”

The University of Pennsylvania isn’t the only university to take notice, however, as Yash Gupta, who is the dean of the John Hopkins Carey Business School, has expressed a similar desire.

“What has happened in the last 18 months has shown that you cannot manage a complex system by dividing it into smaller pieces and optimizing those pieces with considering the whole,” said Gupta. “You cannot build an organization by simply maximizing shareholders’ value. Customers, employees, the general public are important.”

After conducting his own research, Gupta found that companies were looking for employees who possess some very specific skills. These included the ability to:

  • Adapt to change and to be flexible
  • Use critical thinking skills
  • View the world broadly
  • Connect invention with innovation
  • To link content to context

Through the global MBA program that will be offered at the school this fall, Gupta hopes to more effectively meet these needs. One way this will be accomplished is by working these skills into the coursework offered throughout the program rather than by offering a single class in areas such as decision-making or ethics.

“We’ll teach students about decision making – behavioral, rational, how the brain functions – in the first year, but we’ll also give them chances to make decisions,” said Gupta. “We’ll bring in CEOs or prominent academics to talk about ethics and ethical concepts, how managers sort things out and decide which decision is the right decision.”

The new program will also require students to work on projects focusing on the developing world while also expecting students to spend time learning how to work with people from various backgrounds.

Business leaders and others within the industry have taken notice of the changes taking place at the university level and are quite pleased by what they see.

“You can’t look at things as compartmentalized,” said John J. Fernandes, who is the president and CEO of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), which is the largest business school accreditation agency in the world. Ferenandes goes on to say that every needs to be interconnected ad contextualized to everything else. “After Enron and WorldCom, everyone said, ‘Let’s teach ethics,” but they did it in the corner as this separate discussion. But it is best taught across every business discipline because they all have different ethics challenges…It’s best taught across everything we do.”

At Harvard Business School, administrators feel strongly that ethics has always been a core component o the program. Nonetheless, in 2004, the school made it a requirement for all students to take the “Leadership and Corporate Accountability” course during the second term of their first year. According to David A. Garvin, who is a professor of business administration at the school, the course is designed to “give students a sense of responsibilities that they will have to al these different stakeholder groups.”

Focusing on the different stakeholders has gained recognition as being an essential piece to successfully teaching ethics. For example, with customers, business managers must decide what information needs to be disclosed. With employees, on the other hand, managers must know how to treat everyone with fairness. With the general public, the manager may need to deal with larger issues such as freedom of speech and child labor laws. Clearly, these are all concerns that needed to be addressed before the financial meltdown, but the high-profile lapses in ethical decision-making among business managers has taken center stage as they take the brunt of the blame for our current economic crisis. As such, universities as well as business students and employers have started to place an even greater emphasis on ethical decision-making and behavior.

“There was a sense of a greater need in helping students understand the roles, responsibilities and purpose of business and business leaders,” said Garvin as he discussed the research he conducted in preparation for his book Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads. Garvin also found that executives and deans saw a greater need for business students to understand “the limits of models and markets – risk, restraint and regulation.”