Sunday, April 29, 2018

Burn those Business Schools (or...maybe don't!)

The other day Paul Prinsloo posted this Guardian article on Facebook, and it seems like a popular article because Shyam Sharma (among others in my online educational social network and PLN posted it). As usual my PLN got me thinking (and, as is evidenced by this blog post, creatively procrastinating and not really working on my dissertation proposal...D'oh! 😜).  This blog post started life as a comment back to Paul, but it got too long, so here it is - migrated to the blog!  I should say that two of my master's degrees are from a business school (B-School hereafter) and my views are framed from an emic and etic perspective (hey, why is my dissertation proposal leaking into my blog? get out! 😏)

From my own personal experience I think that B-Schools are in part complicit with what's going on, they are after part of the business landscape, but I think that they are only one part of the picture.  I am making my way through Ken Bruffee's book on Collaborative Learning, which frames a lot in terms of language, and by language I think a lot of what's encompassed isn't just how you write in specific disciplines but also (and I am not sure Bruffee articulated this) what assumptions, values, and ways of being are articulated by those disciplinary 'languages'.  Bruffee tells us that students enroll in specific programs so that they can gain access to those languages, and by extension gain access into the networks of people that utilize those discourses.

But what's the goal of the learner?  Well, it really depends on each student, but in my own (anecdotal) experience many people gravitated toward the MBA because they were driven by the promise big financial gains. Don't get me wrong. I like a good paycheck (I have bills too!), but if money is the only motivator (or the largest of the motivators if more than one exists), then there is something wrong, and short-sighted. While I do think that B-Schools have a moral obligation to improve society, they also need to teach their students about what's going out there in society. They wouldn't survive long as schools if they ignored that because students would just not come to them.

From my own class experiences, here is an example:  I was in an Introduction to Finance class for my MBA. This was just before the last crash that was brought on by bad housing loans. There were some students that were having the proverbial wet dream about these mortgage derivatives. While the professor did speak against these financial products from his own (extensive) experience in the field we didn't really discuss it a lot in the finance class, and we focused on our texts and what was on the syllabus  for that week.  This was a perfect opportunity to look at current day trends, critically analyze them, and speak for/against them.  Nope, it didn't happen.  I liked the class, respected the prof that voiced his expert opinion.  I think an off-the-cuff remark was something like derivatives are basically like going to Vegas and playing the roulette or something like that.  I see this as a lost opportunity, and lo-and-behold, a few semesters later came the crash. The crash was instigated by blind financiers (blind willfully or negligently) who were focused on just profits.

I agree with the criticism, in the article, of the curriculum (and what that curriculum signals), but the then I'd argue that you can't just 'fix' the curriculum of a B-School and call it a job well done.  Things operate in certain ways outside of the walls of academia. We need to be preparing students to change not just themselves but also those systemic inequalities in the way we conduct business, and how our laws operate in our country; anything and everything from cost of healthcare, cost of going to school, cost of housing, how those things operate, and who's pulling the strings.

We also need to look outside the B-school for solutions to change the legal aspects of how businesses run; this later part is broad because it includes things like taxation, healthcare, education, environmental health and safety, and  so on.  When you have people joining B-Schools because their goal is to make money (and they do that because that's what society signals as a core value, and everyone wants to be part of that 1%) then you aren't going to get a lot of takers to go to B-School that doesn't equip you to do that, at least one that overtly doesn't sell that brand of success.  I am not sure what's happening in the rest of the world, but the US seems very much into the myth of individual exceptionalism, hence this all about "me" and eff everyone else weltsanschauung, is what's implicitly marketed, both by schools and by politicians who want 'practical' degrees, does not really provide fertile ground for a healthy society.

I don't have a solution for this issue, but burning down the B-Schools is definitely not part of a solution that I would advocate for.  Maybe instead of having undergraduate B-Schools we should require people to study philosophy, sociology, art, and history (among other liberal arts) before they can gain access to B-School for graduate studies instead of having people go to B-School right from the undergraduate business degrees.   Maybe those graduate students would need to be connect their undergraduate studies to their business pursuits. Perhaps B-Schools could nurture connections with local, regional, and national organizations to help support the greater welfare of everyone, and not just focus on individual gain.  As another personal example, to finish off this post, while I did find international finance interesting, and the concept of arbitrage fascinating, it's a good idea to question who benefits from these systems, who has access to international markets and the capital necessary to make profits in arbitrage? And do these people who make money out of nothing help support the broader well being of a society? How about we introduce that critical aspect into the curriculum.
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