On several occasions (at least once a semester) we fellows have a discussion about what for now seems to be an utopian scenario: students applying critical theory, concepts of social and environmental justice, oppression, and other critical concepts in their assignments, such as in group oral presentations of business analysis of a company or a given industry. We usually complain about students’ lack of social and environmental awareness in their roles as hypothetical consultants presenting their business analyses and recommendations to the leadership of their assigned companies. Based on our observations, students’ most common approach to “doing business” is reflected in their primary focus on “how to make the most money possible,” usually at any cost.
What is particularly unsettling is that the business recommendations our students come up with are frequently based on or deeply rooted in exploitation and inequalities to which they, as immigrants and children of immigrants, members of the middle and working classes, and other marginalized and oppressed social groups, are subjected. In my whole (now several years of) experience working with BPL students, I only met one group of students who attempted to develop and propose what could be called socially responsible business strategies that were not focused on mere fast financial gain. Unfortunately, they failed terribly, as they lacked the tools that would enable them to achieve such a goal. Although our role as communication consultants is not to provide support for the content of students’ assignments, I did not feel comfortable not being able to help them beyond recommending consulting further with their instructor. Even though their assignment fell short of achieving their goal, their attempt was refreshing and hopeful, however idealistic it might have been.
When students do consider strategies and practices to be implemented by corporations that focus on social issues, such as environmental awareness (e.g., “going green”), social responsibility and community involvement, being culturally sensitive, etc., I usually find that these are predominantly used as marketing tools only to generate more profit.
A while ago I posted information about London’s School for Social Entrepreneurs, which seems to be focusing on developing small businesses while practicing socially responsible business practices. Although in a very limited capacity, I inquired about business schools and approaches with such an alternative focus and I learned about a relatively new field of Critical Management Studies that does apply critical theory to business including management. Those interested can read more on Wikipedia. One can learn that, in the short twenty years of its existence, this field is growing and developing approaches and attempts to articulate different “voices within the business school, and provide ways of thinking beyond current dominant theories and practices of organization” (Wikipedia).
I would like this post to be an invitation for discussion on exploring existing resources and further possibilities of support of Baruch students’ engagement in critical discussion and reflection on the practices they are such an integral part of. As a part of this post, I tried to find out what the existing efforts and activities are at Baruch College that could be relevant to students and could promote their critical inquiries of business practices.
I found out that the Research Center on Equality, Pluralism and Policy (CEPP) at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs might offer such opportunities, as it aims to “examine the opportunities and barriers our country’s citizens and non-citizens face in a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse society. The primary objective of CEPP is to critically examine issues of economic and social policies in our city, state and nation where the government creates and implements policies that affect all of our citizens and non-citizens. Baruch students are an integral part of this examination. CEPP invites students to bring their ideas and commitment to social justice to the Center.” In addition to other activities, the Center organizes The Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Lecture Series on Equality and Justice in America. As is stated on their webpage, The Ackerman Lecture series “invites leading intellectuals and public figures to address major questions of equality and social justice in order to provoke debate and new thinking about how we might extend the promise of democracy and opportunity to all of our people.”
I would like to learn if there are any Business (or Economics) courses currently offered to Baruch students that address the issues of social responsibility, social injustice and oppression, etc., or for instance that educate students on alternative business models. The results of my search of currently offered business courses did not indicate such opportunities. I hope (and wish) that my research was insufficient and I would like to learn about such courses given that Civic Awareness, Ethical Decision-Making, and Global Awareness are some of the general education competencies stipulated by the college as part of the core curriculum and against which student development is assessed (You can read more about it in 2010 Baruch College Middle States Self-Study.)
I am also wondering what would be the response of potential applicants if the recruiting strategies of Baruch College would focus on students’ potential of changing and transforming the world into a more socially just and environmentally safe place. Given our socially (and otherwise) diverse student population, such educational goals might be closer and more relevant to students’ lives and everyday realities.
p.s. During the research for this post I learned from my friend Saqib Jafarey, a college professor of economics in London, that a famous economist, Ariel Rubinstein, calls the students of economics “victims of economics.” He has run many experiments in which he tests whether people who behave altruistically towards others do better or worse than those who act in rational self-interest. His experiments reveal that people who cooperate with and trust others but within reasonable limits do better than those who are naively altruistic or rationally selfish. He also finds that economics students are more likely to act in a selfish manner than other students.