April 8, 2009

New Projects

This Summer, the Chronicle Review will be publishing a new article of mine on the ironic challenge of teaching ethics in business school. It's a little like Edmundson's classic Harper's piece on the liberal arts, but from my experiences in business school.

Which leads me to my other current project. Many are wondering why there is a dearth of ethics in business. The short answer is that business is about maximizing profit, which can lead to greed and corruption. But the longer answers to why it is lacking in business school curricula and academic research might lead to real solutions. The New York Times had an interesting piece on this recently. It quoted Rakesh Khurana, a professor at Harvard Business School, who recently published an excellent book describing the problem from a socio-historical perspective.

He doesn't provide much of a solution, but does argue that management needs to have an ethos (beyond maximizing profit) akin to medicine and law to justify its presence in higher education. My own view on this is that ethical business creates social value. I have an edited book appearing on this in the next month or so. I'll post the blurb here as soon as it's online.

So I am preparing an article now for the Academy of Management Learning & Education (AMLE), which has accepted the proposal, arguing that one of the reasons ethical curricula are lacking in business schools is that ethical research is almost entirely absent from the top management journals. And that's essentially because those journals are exclusively empirical. The AMLE is an exception, as it does include a priori arguments, but is more of a second-tier journal (although this is changing as its latest impact factor ranking puts it at 7th place). As such, it is a rare exception.

Yet the AMLE's mission statement only explicitly acknowledges what is commonly referred to in business literature as qualitative or quantitative research, which are both purely empirical approaches. According to this 7-year study of the 1990s, the journals widely-considered to be at the top of the field are almost all entirely empirical:

Academy of Management Journal

Academy of Management Review

Administrative Science Quarterly

Journal of Applied Psychology

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

Strategic Management Journal

Personnel Psychology

And the main theory journal (AMR) among them states that it will publish only "testable knowledge-based claims." Unfortunately, that excludes almost everything that counts as ethics, which is essentially a conceptual, a priori discipline, akin to mathematics, law, and philosophy. We wouldn't require for example that theses on the nature of justice or logic be empirically testable. But that doesn't mean that they don't count as knowledge-based.

Until top management journals open their pages to a priori arguments on the ethical nature and mission of business, there will be a dearth of ethics in business schools. For the top business schools, which are a model to the rest, are interested in hiring academics who publish in the top journals. Thus those journals have a responsibility as gatekeepers to get the ball rolling.

In the article, I'll offer suggestions on what we might consider the moral mission of business to be. The working title is: "Beyond Empiricism: Restoring the Ethical Promise of Management Education."

I'll be giving a paper at the Eastern Academy of Management (a teaching case on capping executive compensation) in Hartford May 13-16. So if any readers will be attending, it might be fun to meet while we're there. I'll hopefully have some copies of my book by then too. Post a comment below or email me at friedlandj@gmail.com

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