News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

Educating the Businessman

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Although opinion on this side of the river is divided on whether the neatly-spaced quadrangles on the other side form the Temple of God or the Temple of Mammon, there is general unanimity on one point: that the Harvard School of Business Administration is probably the most important and the most effective training-ground in the country for the future leaders of our economic system. But to say, in effect, that the Business School is the best in the country is not necessarily to say that it is good enough. American business in the next 25 years is going to face new and perplexing problems that focus upon its responsibilities in a world society, and if we now proceed to question whether the Business School is providing a framework adequate to meeting these new problems it is not because we think the Business School is bad (that would indeed be foolish), but because it could be so much better.

The challenges to American business seem to lie in the general area of its responsibilities to society. Is business going to do anything to meet the problems which are bound to arise when automation and atomic energy vastly increase the amount of leisure time available to the workers? How will business respond over the long run to the financial crisis facing American education? What can business do in underdeveloped countries to help build a world of plenty for all? At times in history, American business has met its responsibilities; at other times, it has not. The question now is, will it rise to the occasion to think anew in the next few decades? And the answer to that question is going to depend on the extent to which America's business executives know not only where business now is; but perhaps more important, where it has come from, and where it is going. These answers will come only from men who have a long-range purpose clearly in mind; men who, in short, can get above the day-to-day problems of administration, and see the larger question marks.

Now such a purpose is not at all foreign to the Harvard Business School, which lists as one of its aims the "development of an understanding of the place of business in our society and an understanding of the responsibility that business has to that society." But the School has chosen, in order to fulfill this aim and its corollary, the development of basic administrative skills, a single method. This approach--the technique that has made the School famous--is the Case Method. It involves the study, one after another, of some one thousand individual administrative problems, such as the firing of an incompetent worker, which the student must meet as if he were the responsible administrator. This method, it is true, turns out perfected pragmatists who are able to deal with the problems at hand efficiently and intelligently. But does the Case Method instill anything beyond a grasp of technique? Does it acquaint the student with a body of knowledge and an understanding of business-past and future, as well as present? Does it expose him to ideas and theories as well as facts and situations? Does it, in short, give the graduate the intellectual tools that will produce not only his well-tooted salary, but also his continuing interest in values and higher responsibilities of business?

We put these criticisms as questions, because we frankly do not know the answers. We admit we have doubts, but they can be answered by those who know at closer hand the problems of the Business School. Assuming for a moment, however, that there are limitations to the effectiveness of the Case Method, would it not worth considering setting up a required course which would depart both from a consideration of practical problems and the use of the Case Method? This course would center upon the philosophical and historical problems of business and its responsibilities in the modern world. It certainly would feature a discussion of economic theorists--from Smith to Keynes, from Mill to Marx. It would draw upon the Kress Library, which is one of the best collections of historical manuscripts dealing with business before 1848, and it should look at the development of the corporation from the Middle Ages. It could even draw on guest lectures from a few of the critics on this side of the river, and might profitably include a look at literary works concerning business, perhaps even The Merchant of Venice and Death of a Salesman. Obviously, this course would be larger in scope than either the existing half-course (unrequired) in Business History or the full course on Business in American Society.

It would in effect be an instrument for proving that the Humanities have an important place even in a business education, and as such it would be a new focus not only at the Business School but throughout educational circles. This type of program, as the Dean of Columbia's School of Business has written, 'may be the most exciting challenge of all in the years ahead, for it seems to imply a greater awareness of the quasi-political status in which the business manager now finds himself. It suggests that the great minds of yesterday, working with the problems of politics and ethics in a different setting, have much to offer for an understanding of the contemporary position of business and its opportunities in society." Harvard has the resources to do this kind of pioneering, and it might well consider the exciting possibilities.

It would in effect be an instrument for proving that the Humanities have an important place even in a business education, and as such it would be a new focus not only at the Business School but throughout educational circles. This type of program, as the Dean of Columbia's School of Business has written, 'may be the most exciting challenge of all in the years ahead, for it seems to imply a greater awareness of the quasi-political status in which the business manager now finds himself. It suggests that the great minds of yesterday, working with the problems of politics and ethics in a different setting, have much to offer for an understanding of the contemporary position of business and its opportunities in society." Harvard has the resources to do this kind of pioneering, and it might well consider the exciting possibilities.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags