A panel of business school leaders, moderated by Richard Vietor, senior associate dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, responded to the challenges from the first panel. The panelists included Valerie Suslow, associate dean of the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan; Robert Hansen, senior associate dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College; and Anjani Jain, senior associate dean of the School of Management, Yale University.
CURRENT PRACTICES AND LIMITATIONS
Vietor opened the session by asking about the current practice of leading business schools in addressing climate change and about limitations for doing more. Suslow remarked that many business school initiatives, including those related to climate change, may begin with students who often start grassroots activities that can influence their educational experience. In addition, some faculty engage in relevant research and offer elective courses. Extracurricular activities, an important component of business school life, also provide options for engaging with climate- and business-related topics and issues. Hansen cautioned about being guided too strongly by student demand for addressing social issues or sustainability. Dartmouth offers three electives on climate change and others on issues related to sustainability, but did not change the core curriculum. The 2-year MBA program covers most requirements in the first year, and issues related to climate change are touched on within this core curricu-
lum. He agreed with Suslow that extracurricular activities play a powerful role in providing students with opportunities to think about climate change within the context of businesses. Hansen pointed to a wide variety of important topics that lay claim to being more prominently featured in the business school curriculum, from global health to education. He stressed the opportunity cost for including new ideas: “Everything you do is something else you don’t do.”
Jain discussed the joint commitment to business and society at the Yale School of Management. Yale has no limit on courses students can take in other areas of the university, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies provides an important resource for the business school. This includes a joint degree program, at least 10 elective courses between the business and forestry schools, and the joint development of course cases. At Yale, every core course at the business school is taught by at least two instructors, which increases the capacity at the faculty level for curricular integration and facilitates systems thinking.
Vietor said the Harvard Business School offers no core course on climate change, but six electives cover climate change, and 14 faculty members are engaged in environmental initiatives. Climate change was previously covered in a core course but is not currently.
He then asked whether business schools should be engaged in adaptation only or also address mitigation. Suslow responded that both are needed and that faculty indeed address both. She reported on faculty consensus for a need to broaden the perspective that business students should have on critical issues, and that students are encouraged to cross boundaries to explore them. Business students might normally think more narrowly about the business perspective on climate change, she said, but her school tries to use multidisciplinary action learning to provide students with a broader perspective.
Hansen pointed to the fundamental conceptual frameworks that business students should understand before discussing complex issues like climate change. He stated that these discussions ought to be intellectually rigorous and supported by the right kind of tools. In terms of mitigation, they might include the role of discount rates in determining the time horizon of investments, or considerations of marginal benefits and costs when deciding on optimal control policies. Only when students are provided with rigorous intellectual frameworks for rational discussions should they be asked to think about the right mechanisms for addressing climate change. Hansen stated that mitigation issues are sufficiently covered at Dartmouth, but that there are gaps in addressing adaptation. He remarked that addressing adaptation directly may lead to push-back from students and questioned how to think about adaptation absent rigorous and research-based frameworks. He then questioned the line between
teaching to make students think critically about issues and advocacy for particular positions or actions. He cautioned that universities should make students think, not provide them merely with solutions. Jain added that some courses straddle the line between mitigation and adaptation. In terms of advocacy, Jain observed that faculty can and should have their own viewpoints or opinions as long as there is no major institutional bias, but intellectual rigor in addressing issues is their purpose and serves students who are interested in and focused on finding solutions.
OBSTACLES TO ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE BUSINESS SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Vietor followed up by asking about obstacles to addressing climate change in the curriculum. Suslow said the interdisciplinarity of the issue poses challenges that Yale’s team-teaching approach can address. But she reiterated that the real challenge is including climate change perspectives for all students, that is, addressing it in the core curriculum. Suslow said students have considerable power over the course offerings and that donors have some influence as well, but reiterated that student grassroots action and persistent demand can create the momentum that establishes new ideas in the core.
Hanson warned that students may not always be the best judges of what to include in the curriculum and pointed again to the opportunity cost associated with change. Business schools teach foundational concepts and tools, leaving few options for adding new material without deleting others. He said the best option for addressing climate issues in the core curriculum would be via cases that teach foundational concepts within the context of climate change. However, a lack of qualified and interested faculty might form a barrier for teaching specific cases. (As Jacob Park later remarked,“bad things happen when you force faculty to teach something they don’t want to teach or are not entirely comfortable or capable of teaching.”) Hansen also cautioned that while it might be relatively easy to have practitioners teach certain aspects of the curriculum, top business schools require research-based faculty, although this point was later challenged during a discussion on the balance between academic rigor and practical relevance of concepts and tools taught at business schools. A second barrier for Hansen is the availability of quality, in-depth course material and cases. He questioned the focus on “low-hanging fruit,” leaving students without the capacity to tackle knotty issues.
Commenting on the Harvard Business School’s policy to send students to other countries in order to set up a company to address globalization and entrepreneurship that may be part of the core curriculum, Hansen asked whether climate change should be treated with the same
level of attention (as a cross-cutting theme) in the core. Vietor answered that in his opinion, carbon is a big enough issue to merit inserting into the core. He acknowledged, however, a previous point about the need for more appropriate cases on energy and climate, and capacity within the faculty for teaching them: One case at Harvard that addressed climate change was not liked by students and was dropped from a core course. Jain reiterated that the unit of analysis might be a case or a module, which are easier to include than entire courses. He suggested accounting for curricular coverage of climate-related topics at the level of a lecture or case. Yale currently includes two climate-related cases in the core. At that level, there is less worry about what needs to be given up by faculty.
ISSUES AROUND CURRICULUM REDESIGN
An audience question about the role of recruiters was framed as the need for business schools to show relevant jobs and the demand for particular skills since schools respond to supply and demand. Suslow responded that recruiters are indeed important; they tend to look for critical thinking and analytical skills, then train recruits to their culture and particular job requirements.
Hansen brought up the issue of stand-alone courses on the topic of climate change versus integrating the concept throughout the curriculum. He said he saw higher risks of failure in stand-alone courses and cited a technology course eliminated from the core after it did not perform as expected. However, ethics is now integrated into the core at a more fundamental level. Patrick and Vietor acknowledged that embedding new content into the core is harder and takes longer since it raises the question of how to incorporate new ideas into existing functions, and how to address the intellectual independence of faculty.
Jain explained that curriculum redesign at Yale was difficult, but it engaged faculty. Hansen reiterated that the main idea of business school education is not to have students believe in one particular solution to a business challenge, but to engage them in issues and help them form their own perspectives. While no student should leave a business school without understanding externalities, he said, there is a difference between understanding them and thinking about specific solutions.
A question from the audience challenged the panel to discuss how fundamental assumptions about the way the economic and enterprise system works are reflected in the education of business school students. Suslaw responded that these discussions occur both in and outside the classroom and faculty members are part of these discussions, leaving some students confused, which she interpreted as achieving a broader goal of education. The fact that faculty are free to teach however they wish
even in the core courses left Vietor wondering about how to address the issue that climate cases compete with others for the same core case space.
Panelists were asked what they would change if they had the power to do so without any constraints. Suslow suggested bringing in more and diverse perspectives into the business school education. She gave as an example that design schools might bring in business perspectives, while business schools could discuss design where appropriate. She cautioned again, however, that faculty tend to preserve the core education, but might be far more willing to add options in the electives. Jain asked whether it would be useful to attract more STEM (science, technology engineering, and mathematics)graduates into business schools, in part to expand a top talent pool that could shrink should international students find increasingly more attractive MBA programs and business careers in their home countries. Hansen said he would design a course to address so-called great issues in society, even as he acknowledged the difficulties in doing so. And while he agreed that business schools should tap into the talent pool of STEM graduates, he said he also wished to attract liberal arts students for their broad perspective. He cautioned that technical expertise alone might not be sufficient for true future leadership. Jain reiterated that students need a deep appreciation for business fundamentals and Hansen specified the need to teach more about uncertainty and how to manage it: He distinguished risk (not knowing what the probability distribution is) from uncertainty (knowing what the distribution is, but not knowing where one is on it).
Panelists were asked to specify the core capabilities for business school graduates and to reflect how they are represented in the curriculum. Suslaw explained her vision to produce students who have foundational skills, can see the broader picture, can think critically, and can solve problems. She said the emphasis on academics has slipped with the new focus on job placement, and aims at changing the culture back toward increased classroom engagement where faculty members are free to challenge and push students. Jain added that students need to be able to ask the right questions, analyze situations, apply conceptual ideas to create solutions, and keep learning. Hansen articulated a goal to educate students to become the leaders of tomorrow’s organizations that schools can be proud of. The abilities to be a leader include envisioning the future and creating it in a responsible way. He said a topic like climate change has to be part of this conversation.
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