The responsibility of business schools
In July, the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (UN PRME) were launched in Geneva. They call for the incorporation of universal values in curricula and research, and are offered as a guiding framework for academic institutions to advance the broader cause of corporate social responsibility (see Box 1). The Principles have been developed by an international task force of 60 deans, university presidents and official representatives of leading business schools. The initiative has been co-convened by the United Nations Global Compact, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), the Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program, the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) and Net Impact.
The launch of the Principles is the latest illustration of a trend in management education that appears to be responding to criticism of business schools from business, students and wider society during the first years of the 21st century. The Economist recalled,
Five years ago, business schools, particularly in America, came under attack from all sides. Fairly or not, they took some of the blame for the corporate scandals that erupted at firms such as Enron and WorldCom. Jeffrey Skilling, the former boss of Enron, was a star of the Harvard Business School class of 1979. Other corporate villains and their lackeys have boasted MBAs. Many agreed with one commentator that the only way to solve the ethical problems of corporate America was to fire everyone under 35 with an MBA.11 'New graduation skills', The Economist 383.8528 (12 May 2007): 75-76; www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?story_id=9149115&fsrc=RSS.
Even esteemed professors of management were critical. In an article published in 2005, the late Sumantra Ghoshal of London Business School argued that, by assuming executives are the self-interested agents of shareholders, driven by maximisation of their self-interest, business-school teachers had freed their students from 'any sense of moral responsibility'.2 Applications for MBA courses began to dip and graduating MBAs began to experience great difficulty in finding work, according to The Economist.
Since 1999, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program have been publishing reviews of the social and environmental content of MBA programmes. The 2007 report ranked universities on their incorporation of such issues into the business curriculum, as well as their research. The top ten of the schools studied in 2007 are listed in Table 1. The global rankings are dominated by North American business schools which might reflect the methodology of the rankings, including the way different issues are weighted. Nevertheless, the publication of this ranking has increased the pressure and incentive for business schools to consider corporate responsibility in their teaching and research.
Some of the more recent innovations in teaching challenge the normal approach of management education entirely. The Economist described the new approach taken by Yale School of Management during 2007.
Instead of the well-worn method of teaching functional subjects, such as marketing, strategy, accounting and so forth, students who are now completing their first year at Yale are taught with eight courses that each address different themes, such as the customer, the employee, the investor, competitors, business and society, and innovation.
To rewrite the curriculum, weekly meetings of multidisciplinary teams discussed what each subject could bring to a course. This encourages the faculty out of their academic silos and enables them to see the bigger picture, something returned to below.
Globally, one of the most active projects to transform management education to promote corporate responsibility in business has been the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), which was launched in 2004 by senior representatives from 21 companies, business schools and centres for leadership learning. The partnership's Co-founder and General Secretary, Anders Aspling, who is also Dean of Vlerick Leuven Gent Business School in Belgium, explained to JCC that 'business schools and centres for leadership learning can play a pivotal role, alongside business, in developing the present and future leaders required to ensure that business is a force for good'. Michael Powell, Pro Vice Chancellor of Griffith Business School, the first Australian business school to be involved in the GRLI, told JCC that 'it is important to connect with those professors and deans around the world who are seeking to provide a new form of management education, so we can support each other in our efforts'.