The events of the past 9 days make it clear that there is a shift towards authoritarianism and fascism in the United States marked by attacks on the humanity of immigrants and religious minorities. It joins several other countries in this regard.
It is also clear that the main people behind these racist, facist policies have business degrees or business education. Donald Trump graduated from Wharton Business School in 1968. His principal advisor has a Harvard MBA. His UN ambassador has an accounting degree.
The rise of political leaders with business degrees, rather than law or political science is a rising but not new phenomenon. George W. Bush was famously the first president with an MBA (from Yale) and his first campaign highlighted his MBA training as a key source of his skill set as a manager. An older analysis shows that a degree in business administration or economics is one of the most common educational backgrounds for state leaders.
Successful business people are increasingly using their business or entrepreneurial success as a platform for their political careers. Trump is the most obvious example of this but Darell Issa is another example. This trend will only grow.
Given this, Business Schools need to take on the responsibility and duty of training the next generation of political leaders as well as business leaders. This responsibility includes the need to deliver anti-facist and anti-racist training. We as management scholars need to begin a discussion of how we can take on this new responsibility in our teaching and research.
What does anti-facist business pedagogy look like? It goes beyond simply offering a class on business ethics (even if it is mandatory). It has to be integrated throughout the curriculum. It has to accomplish several goals.
- First, it has to teach students to know when they are being lied to and understand the reasons. This is pretty useful skill for a future business professional to have anyways, but is is particularly necessary in a world where our leaders boast of having 'alternative facts'
- Second, it has to teach them that they are capable of being facist or racist. One of the biggest failure of our education system is that it presents racism as an act of determined hate rather than a series of many, simple, thoughtless actions. Students should learn both about unconscious bias in hiring and leadership, but should also be subtly exposed to how they engage in it. Maybe we can create a business simulation where students are given the option to adopt illegal policies (such as limiting worker safety to reduce labor costs or asked to review the resumes of different workers when hiring for a student startup). The key is help them realise that they are susceptible to these biases and they will have to police themselves.
- Third, it must have them engage with humanity. Several entrepreneurial and social design classes have had students work with refugees or undocumented immigrants to better understand their situation and design solutions to help them.
I want to begin a dialog about what an anti-facist business curriculum looks like. Critical scholars from fields like sociology, gender studies, history, and political science have put together several draft syllabuses and reading lists to better understand the post-trump world. Management scholars must do the same thing. Our challenge is that it is difficult for us to simply teach against fascism: students come to our programs and classrooms expecting to develop a very specific skill set and will likely resist too much overt anti-fascist training. Rather, we have to integrate these life lessons into our overall curriculums.
If you have any ideas to share, please leave them below in the comments or e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My ultimate goal is to help arrange a late breaking PDW or informal gathering at AOM in August to discuss and develop these ideas further.