Business schools’ mandate to foster criticality and citizenship through management education is accentuated in our “post-truth” era. What remedies do scholars and managers suggest for the current challenges? By Rajani Naidoo and Howard Thomas.
There are growing calls for Business Schools to contribute to fostering criticality and citizenship through management education and to shoulder some element of responsibility for calling truth to power. These expectations have arisen in the context of the crippling financial crisis in which Business Schools have been accused of developing curricula and pedagogies that have transmitted and reinforced amoral principles of management. Such roles are even more important in the context of exponential growth in inequality, the undermining of social solidarity and the potential destruction of our planet. Management education also has a crucial role to play in the ‘post-truth’ era in which digitalisation has exacerbated the difficulty of distinguishing facts from propaganda; and where knowledge going viral is more important than its integrity with significant influence on democracy and political choices.
On November 2019, a symposium co-hosted by the Research Committee of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and the University of Bath School of Management’s International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM) brought together prominent scholars and more than 60 faculty, students and managers to discuss and find ways of addressing these challenges.
Opening the seminar, Veronica Hope Hailey, University of Bath Vice President argued that the history and development of the University of Bath School of Management showed that it was possible to combine an approach to management education which showed a respect, appreciation, and engagement with business practice with an ability to present alternative and critical views around corporate social and economic responsibility and grand challenges. She quoted from Tara Westover’s book “Educated” to emphasise the need for different stories and interpretations to be presented to students; but that the meaning and values that students drew from those alternative and conflicting views must remain in their agency and their choice. Veronica concluded that in essence, this is one of the attributes that constitute a good education.
Per Holten- Andersen reminded us that business schools exist within universities and that the democratic transformations in the postwar period are being eroded by rising inequality and a lack of common spirit and destiny. He argued that an important fourth role of the university should be to challenge the current wave of short-termism and to build and preserve democracy and civilization at a global level through a review of the curriculum, the role of student unions and by focusing research-led teaching on sustainable economic development, the role of transparency, the rule of law and trust.
Marianna Fotaki advocated repositioning business and management education for societal transformation, highlighting how the customer as a sovereign has eclipsed public service notions of care, solidarity, and responsibility. Arguing for content, philosophy, and pedagogy to be brought closer to societal concern. Marianna offered relevant pedagogical strategies concerned with answerability and relationality.
Howard Thomas, drawing examples from his experience as Business School Dean on several continents proposed that the liberal arts, the humanities, and the social sciences be integrated into the undergraduate curriculum to blend analytic acumen with creativity, critical thinking, and ethical intelligence. This would give management students access to enlightenment thinking at the heart of the humanities and to holistic approaches to history and society. Thus, management students would be prepared as leaders of society and not just business and could be more prepared for the environmental, business, political and social challenges we face today.
Arguing that the idea of Business Schools contributing to the public good virtually disappeared with the hostile takeover of business schools driven by ideological fervour and a fantasy of science, business and markets, Kenneth Starkey argued that the drama of theatre of the absurd particularly the work of Eugène Ionesco provides a novel space for reflecting upon management education as shaped by the forces of emotion, irrationality and conformism rather than reason. He too argued for a sea change in management education, embracing the humanities to re-situate the study and practice of management in its broader historical and philosophical nexus.
The ethic of criticism has stood at the heart of western pedagogy for centuries. Yiannis Gabriel argued however that this ethic of criticism is sometimes at odds with the ethic of care, which is then even further undermined by consumerism and its inroads into the fields of education and learning. The resulting perception of management as a field of study for young people is entirely instrumental—an effective stepping stone to launch a career, but one devoid of either intrinsic interest or social value. Yiannis made a plea for an enduring reconciliation of an ethic of care with an ethic of criticism as the basis for management education.
Russ Vince, arguing against simplistic conceptions, suggested that citizenship in organizations implies both compliance with the established order and challenges to habitual ways of thinking and being. The responsibility of management educators is to help students to comprehend and to engage with such contradictions by moving beyond overly rational, individually focused and excessively positive models of management. He provided examples of how to engage with emotions and relations present in the ‘here and now’ of the classroom to understand the contradictions that are integral to the relationship between behaviour and structure in organisations.
The dialogue between the speakers and the audience raised further challenges including how to prepare students for an uncertain future, what we mean by employability, how to develop innovative ways of teaching under pressures to perform in various types of competition including government-sponsored contests and status wars, and the lack of focus on pedagogy particularly in relation to the power relations associated with gender, class and ethnicity.
Final reflections were provided by Brian Squire, Acting Dean of the University of Bath School of Management who appreciated the seminar as a space to step back and reflect on our practices, our values and the direction of our field. Brian summarised the major issues and possible solutions discussed during the day, and also suggested that we will need to prepare students for multiple career transitions and provide interdisciplinary connections with engineering and the sciences in order to resolve some of the major global challenges we face. Ending on a message of hope, Brian suggested that we also need to reflect on the small acts of transformation occurring every day in the classroom, the achievements of our research community and the lives we have changed through our education.
The convenors Rajani Naidoo, Howard Thomas, and Jurgen Enders would like to acknowledge the support of the European Foundation for Management Development. We would also like to thank Veronica Hope Hailey, Vice President, Strategic External Engagement and Brian Squire, Acting Dean, School of Management, University of Bath for their support. Many thanks to Jacqueline Stockley for her skilled administration, to Kate Ho lvey and Rayner Simpson for web support and to Dan Davies and Bar Lin Tran for photography.