Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean, College of Business + Economics, University of Guelph, Ontario Canada
At the start of the recent AACSB Deans Conference in San Diego, we had the pleasure of participating in an “affinity group meeting” organized to promote the work of the GRLI and PRME, discuss possible further collaboration with AACSB, and explore the challenges and strategies being faced by business school deans from around the globe in implementing the concepts and principles encouraged by GRLI and PRME.
It was a productive discussion that, as often is the case, produced more questions than answers. Areas touched on included the global need for business leaders who are committed to issues of sustainability, along with a host of related issues, including: PRME reporting requirements and ways to enhance the effectiveness of what can be perceived as overly-bureaucratic processes; strategies for embedding PRME in business school cultures and processes, such as the creation of standing committees and the appointment of PRME leaders/coordinators; issues associated with the fair assessment of faculty scholarship, given the lack of highly-ranked journals in the CSR arena; and opportunities for inter-disciplinary curricular innovation, particularly between business and the STEM disciplines.
Each of these topics garnered a great deal of discussion. Most importantly, the session gave the deans in attendance an opportunity to explore areas of interest and challenge, and learn from one another. One area of unanimity was shared interest in pursuing the discussion further, in New York in June.
Moderated by GRLI Managing Director John North, the meeting began with a brief overview of the GRLI, followed by a presentation by Jonas Haertle, Head or the PRME Secretariat, of the UN’s Global Compact. Jonas challenged the approximately 40 participants (most of whom self-identified as being PRME signatories) to reflect on how AACSB, PRME and GRLI can work most effectively together. He also underscored the importance of having business schools engage directly with the challenge of sustainable development, a priority for the UN in 2015. Jonas shared that in mapping countries around the world, it is clear that those with high levels of human development also have relatively high ecological footprints. He suggested that the challenge we are faced with is how human development can be enhanced within a much lower ecological footprint. Jonas further shared that PRME’s role is to help facilitate change, but was never intended as an accrediting body. “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” is just one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that will be announced by the UN in Fall 2015. How these goals may have relevance for business schools will be a focus of the 2015 PRME Global Forum, to be held June 23–25, in New York.
Next, Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Dean of the University of Washington’s Bothell School of Business, suggested that it was time for PRME to rethink its “Sharing Information on Progress” (SIP) report. He suggested that the SIPs are not being read by others and questioned their purpose. He then advanced a specific suggestion that PRME adopt a new reporting model, aligned with AACSB requirements, one that would require the presentation of each PRME initiative using a framework of “Impact, Innovation and Engagement”. Those who responded did not appear to be overly supportive of the idea, arguing that the flexibility of the SIPS was one of the attributes most appreciated by the deans; that individual business schools can tailor them to the own purposes. Comments from participants suggested that reporting requirements are already too onerous, consuming significant resources; that schools can benefit from their SIPS when they are positioned as promotional documents; including stories of alumni working on sustainability projects can be an effective outreach/alumni engagement strategy.
Catherine Usoff, Dean of the Graduate School of Management, from Clark University, next talked about how she has made PRME a key strategic priority. Most notably, she has formalized her school’s commitment to PRME through the appointment of a PRME Coordinator and the establishment of a standing PRME committee. Committee members are from different degree programs, including staff and Net Impact students. Annual activities include an audit of PRME related content in all courses, and visits to other committees (e.g., undergrad and grad curriculum committees and research committees), to communicate PRME objectives, prepare a periodic report, and support the integration of PRME into the curriculum. In support of the latter, the PRME committee locates and provides PRME related electronic materials, such as case studies, articles, and videos (made available on a faculty drive).
Recommendations offered by Catherine included:
- Don’t make PRME an add-on (it should be integral to strategy)
- Make it easy for faculty to integrate PRME concepts and materials
- Assign responsibility for making progress and maintaining constant attention
- Demonstrate support from the top (include PRME issues on faculty meeting agendas)
- Align student/faculty/staff objectives (a goal of the staff members is to support the PRME initiative)
There was a brief but important discussion about the tension that exists between the “committed few” and the dominant culture. Who should be leading the charge? Enthused, committed faculty, who are most likely untenured, or tenured faculty, who may be not be entirely committed. It was noted that the issue of faculty engagement is being considered by the Copenhagen Business School and Babson College, and a report will be shared at the New York meeting in June.
Next, was a presentation by Jeffrey Unerman, Head of the School of Management and Professor of Accounting and Corporate Accountability, at Royal Holloway, University of London. His focus was on “Fostering high quality research in sustainability and responsibility through an alternative to journals lists”. The problem, as presented by Jeffrey, is that CSR journals are typically not highly ranked — if at all — in standard rankings lists, such as the ABS Journal Guide (last published in 2010). However, CSR research can be of exceptionally high quality, particularly when impact is considered (of interest to AACSB). CSR research is more likely to be presented in books, monographs, conference proceedings, and applied via community projects. Jefrrey suggested that we should be encouraging top journals to be more welcoming of papers related to CSR and at the same time, encouraging faculty to do a better job of presenting evidence on the quality and impact of their work. Tenure and promotion committees need to be educated on disciplinary differences with respect to publication. Junior faculty need to be helped to understand that their mobility will be compromised to the extent that the engage in non-traditional scholarly work.
Last but not least, Michael Hardin, Dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce, at the University of Alabama, presented on his project, integrating business education with STEM disciplines. The “STEM Pathway to the MBA: A New Program for Developing Leaders in a Global Economy” was modeled after Alabama’s medical school’s admission process, which targets incoming freshman and allows them to take business courses in parallel to their primary area of study, and requires only one additional year of study post undergrad to complete their MBA. The program has met with considerable success, attracting 600 applications and 300 acceptances this past year. Students are working on a variety of sustainability projects including the development of patents and commercialization projects — including eco cars and bamboo products.
At the conclusion of these presentations, John identified a number of extremely provocative questions for small-group discussion:
- How do we ensure our faculty are engaged in CSR (beyond a core group)?
- How do we ensure that quality research allows for issues of ethics, sustainability?
- How do we ensure that reporting has real impact (is not just another bureaucratic exercise?)
- How do we teach ethics? (Many faculty believe ethics can’t be taught; others might not behave ethically themselves; The remaining/enduring challenge is who should teach it and what should be taught? Also, is the structure of our institutions at odds with what we are trying to achieve, particularly the T&P process?
- How do we broaden the reach and the scope of business school education (to include schools of leadership and management?)
- Encourage inter-disciplinary certificates and minors in sustainability that might attract students from across the university
- What does this mean for the financial health of the business school? Will AACSB support the hiring of more part-time faculty?
- What is the role of AACSB and other accreditation bodies in this?
The group discussions yielded several valuable points for further discussion with the question on research drawing heavy attention.
The following key takeaways regarding quality of research were noted:
- The institutional context can make local (School-level) initiatives on tenure, promotion, hiring etc criteria problematic, meaning that any desire to move away from reliance on journal lists locally might not be acceptable higher up in the University decision-making processes
- Junior faculty need to build their CVs to give themselves possible passports to other universities, so they do need to bear in mind internationally accepted understandings of which are the leading journals, and aim to publish in these from time to time.
- Broader management journals do now accept CSR/ Sustainability papers, so there is an outlet in the leading (top rated) general journals for this work.
- There might be a broader acceptance of what counts as a leading journal outside the US than within the US, with a much longer track record of research into CSR and sustainability outside the US having led to acceptance in non-US schools of a larger number of CSR/Sustainability journals.
- Overall, management and assessment of the quality of research cannot be undertaken using a single tool. There needs to be a balance of different methods that can collectively be used to foster and evaluate the quality of research into CSR and sustainability (and in any other areas). Use of just one tool risks being too simplistic in the complex arena of effectively judging the quality of research and encouraging research in different fields.
We look forward to the AACSB ICAM meeting where these and others points may be further explored.