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

Today, over 50 years later, the Carnegie Foundation took another critical look at the current state of business education, publishing the second Carnegie Report. As Pierre Guillet de Monthoux puts it, "They basically found that they were wrong. And now we need to go the opposite way."
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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. Alongside US-based Carnegie Foundation and Aspen Institute, teachers at University of St. Gallen, Barcelona's ESADE Business School and Copenhagen Business School are trying to move the report's agenda forward.

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 -- "Carnegie Foundation") commissioned and financed the first study on business education in 1959, the conclusion it drew was a lack of quantitative studies at business schools. With the simultaneous publishing of "Higher Education for Business" by the Ford Foundation with similar findings, business education was subsequently reformed according to the reports' findings and recommendations.

Today, over 50 years later, the Carnegie Foundation took another critical look at the current state of business education, publishing the second Carnegie Report ("CR II"). As Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, 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 leading figures of the current movement, 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," remarks Ellen S. O'Connor, a US historian on management education.

He credits his good friend and colleague, Matt Statler, Professor at Stern School of Business, NYU, for introducing him to the report and thus the Carnegie Foundation and their researcher and one of its authors, Bill Sullivan. Having visited CBS previously, Statler had "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 education 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 US studied by Sullivan in producing the report.

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

As head of the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CR II, once published, gave Guillet de Monthoux a broader context of not only the state of current management education, but of the financial and economic crisis during the time as well, what he calls "a mess on a global scale."

He recounts dramatically in a departmental magazine editorial published in 2011:

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 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.

After the report was published, Guillet de Mounthoux 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." Just when Sullivan returned to the states, 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 last thirty years (their most notable and relevant program at the time being Beyond Grey Pinstripes Ranking -- see our interview here). Bill agreed and proposed including CBS scholars as well. "Finally, ESADE and St. Gallen joined too," describes Guillet de Monthoux of the emerging network of progressive European business schools.

The workshop that recently took at CBS is the second in the series of workshops still carrying this conversation forward, funded by the Geschwister Horstmann Foundation and the Haniel Foundation, a small German foundation that has already been working with CBS and University of St. Gallen for 10 years with the Haniel seminars. Like many European foundations, the Haniel Foundation 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 their university collaborations, they "want to share this vision, by working very closely with [the universities], backing vision with [their] name and funding."

Even though they have consistently travelled to be present at these workshops, Winkler recognize though the importance of universities and key faculty like those at CBS and University of St. Gallen: "We are not the experts. We want to remain very close in contact, but it's more important to be transparent 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]."

On the stateside, this movement is still mostly led by Carnegie Foundation and the Aspen Institute, which has now created an Undergraduate Business Education Consortium, involving over 30 schools. Sullivan and James Walsh, Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, have worked to bring much of the robust investigation and garner academic support. Walsh, an ex-president of the Academy of Management, was brought in by Statler in order to arrange workshops with similar themes sponsored by The Management and Education Division of the Academy of Management.

What's next on the movement's agenda? When asked about the future of this movement 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 what its continuative progressive movement stands 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 fellow students and faculty, or employers and university partners, she says, "We have to 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. Listen to our podcast and track the movement in a timeline in the original article published.