Humanities in Business Education: Who’s Getting a Move on Here?

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Historian Ellen S. O'Connor at the latest CBS workshop.

Historian Ellen S. O'Connor at the latest CBS workshop.

Published in 2011, the second Carnegie Report evoked numerous debates among business scholars. According to the report, business schools are in need of a makeover, specifically to incorporate more humanities and social sciences. Along with the U.S.-based Carnegie Foundation and the Aspen Institute, teachers at Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen, Spain’s ESADE Business School and Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School are trying to move the report’s agenda forward.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — It wouldn’t be the first time that a Carnegie Report changed business and management education. When the Carnegie Corporation of New York (which established the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, aka the Carnegie Foundation) commissioned and financed the first study on business education in 1959, the conclusion pointed to a lack of quantitative studies at business schools. With the Ford Foundation’s simultaneous publication of “Higher Education for Business,” which had similar findings, business education was subsequently reformed according to the reports’ findings and recommendations.

More than 50 years later, the Carnegie Foundation took another critical look at the state of business education, publishing the second Carnegie Report (CR II). As Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, a professor of philosophy in management at the Copenhagen Business School, puts it, “They basically found that they were wrong. And now we need to go the opposite way” — meaning more humanities and the arts.

Guillet de Monthoux is one of the current movement’s leading figures, who are trying to address the findings of CR II with their fellow teachers at business schools, mostly in Europe. “He was really critical in Europe because he read the report and it just galvanized him. A year after he read it, he was still having these volcanic eruptions of enthusiasm,” says Ellen S. O’Connor, a U.S. historian who has studied management education.

He credits his good friend and colleague Matt Statler, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, for introducing him to the report and thus the Carnegie Foundation and its researcher William Sullivan, one of the report’s authors. Having visited the Copenhagen school previously, Statler “suddenly sent [Guillet de Monthoux] an email saying, ‘Hey, yesterday, I had a group from the group of philosophers from Carnegie Foundation in my classroom, and they’re doing a report on how to educate people in philosophy. I think this is something for you guys, and they should come and visit you because you are good at that.’” Statler’s classroom was one of the 10 business programs in the U.S. studied by Sullivan for the report.

The report was initiated after years of work by its authors, who “knew a lot already about education management at the undergraduate level,” Sullivan says. By assessing the 10 business programs, which “had in common that they had a serious attitude about bringing business education into liberal arts,” the authors set out to “recognize common features and develop generalized principles that should be applied to any business program.”

Once published, CR II gave Guillet de Monthoux, head of his school’s Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, a broader context, which was not only the state of current management education but also the financial and economic crisis at that time, what he calls “a mess on a global scale.”

In a departmental magazine editorial published in 2011, he dramatically recounts that “two years ago, [the department] was struck by a heavy blow. In an evaluation report, three international experts stated that we had become ‘MAINSTREAM.’ Mind you, we never tried intentionally, we have adamantly published stuff we believe in journals we like, we have taught courses in line with our convictions and tackled problems high on our agenda. So don’t blame it on us! … To our department of philosophers and historians, political scientists and innovation scholars, [the mess on a global scale] did not come as a real surprise. The only strange thing was that the Carnegie Foundation published a report turning their half a century old predecessor upside down. What now threatens us to go mainstream is the suspicion that those rational models and nice management tools might cause failure and not success.”

Bill Sullivan speaks to workshop participants at CBS; Source: Student Reporter

Bill Sullivan speaks to workshop participants at CBS; Source: Student Reporter

After the report was published, Guillet de Monthoux and his department invited Sullivan to come to Copenhagen in October 2011 and talk about the findings at what was known as the first Copenhagen Roundtable. When Sullivan returned to the U.S., the Aspen Institute approached him to arrange a Carnegie Consortium. The Aspen Institute had been training political and business leaders in philosophical reasoning for the past 30 years (its most notable and relevant program at the time was the Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking; see our interview here). Sullivan agreed and proposed including Copenhagen Business School scholars as well.

“Finally, ESADE and St. Gallen joined too,” says Guillet de Monthoux of the emerging network of progressive European business schools.

The recent workshop at the Copenhagen school is the second in the series of workshops still carrying this conversation forward. Funding comes from the Geschwister Horstmann Foundation and the Haniel Foundation, a small German foundation that has been working with the Copenhagen school and the University of St. Gallen for 10 years with the Haniel seminars.

Like many European foundations, Haniel is linked to a large family firm in Germany, which shares the vision of a “respectable salesman” and aims to “educate young leaders and managers of the future,” says Anna-Lena Winkler, the foundation’s program manager. With its university collaborations, Haniel wants to “share this vision by working very closely with [the universities], backing vision with [its] name and funding.”

Even though Haniel’s staff consistently travels to be present at these workshops, Winkler recognizes the importance of universities and key faculty members, like those at the Copenhagen school and the University of St. Gallen. “We are not the experts,” she says. “We want to remain very close in contact, but it’s more important to be transparent [about] what we both want to achieve. With trying to move systems, a lot of walls do come up, and it’s very important to have full confidence in [the faculty].”

In the U.S., this movement is still led mostly by the Carnegie Foundation and the Aspen Institute, which has now created an Undergraduate Business Education Consortium involving more than 30 schools. Sullivan and James Walsh, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, have worked to bring about much of the robust investigation and garner academic support. Walsh, an ex-president of the Academy of Management, was brought in by Statler to arrange workshops, which have similar themes and are sponsored by the academy’s Management and Education Division.

What’s next on the movement’s agenda? Asked about this and any foreseeable roadblocks, Sullivan answers, “These things are always very uncertain. When these things happen, it’s easy enough to see in hindsight. It’s not clear what will develop in this, but I think it’s important that this has chimed with a number of universities. It validates the diagnosis that the report set out to confirm in the first place.”

Sufficient emancipation of all stakeholder groups is at the core of what the Carnegie Report and its continuative progressive movement stand for. For the Haniel Foundation, Winkler says, “a wall that we will face in the future is the many students and professors who will question our collaboration and what we are working for, as with any new programs. But it’s important to hear the critics and involve them. But we also need to talk to business people — what do they need?” Whether it’s fellow students and faculty or employers and university partners, she says, “we have to [be] relevant with the right stakeholders.”

She adds optimistically, “Of course, we could start to build up a lobby of family foundations and firms. We need as many people we can have behind this movement. We could even start with cooperation between foundations. We are, after all, trying to change a lot together.”


Vinzent Rest contributed reporting to this article.

This post is produced in partnership with GRASP Magazine and Student Reporter and part of our joint project on Humanities and the Social Sciences in Management Education, specifically covering the Carnegie Roundtable Workshop at Copenhagen Business School. 

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