Essay

The Values of Business Education

By Lawrence Kalbers
Illustration by Simon Pemberton

The world that today’s students face is more global, more technologically advanced and perhaps more ethically challenged than ever before.

The world that today’s students face is more global, more technologically advanced and perhaps more ethically challenged than ever before. The first decade of the 21st century offers a picture of some of the significant business events and trends that continue to have an impact on business and society. The globalization of business and society is a dominating factor, including the growing economic power of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Through companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, technology is now an ubiquitous part of business and social activities. We see increases in corporate social responsibility and growth of social entrepreneurship, but also, unfortunately, a darker side of business. Financial markets, the economy and the environment have been damaged by incompetence, greed and hubris. Examples that come to mind include Enron and WorldCom in the early 2000s and those complicit in causing the financial crisis of 2008.

Business education in colleges and universities has existed since the late 19th century, though the number of graduates was small until after World War II. In 1959, studies sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation criticized business education for its overly vocational focus and paucity of faculty research. Many changes followed in curriculum and standards for faculty credentials and scholarship.

In 1988, the AACSB International, a major business school accrediting organization, saw the need for further improvement. The group’s study, “Management Education and Development: Drift or Thrust Into the 21st Century,” urged that more attention be given to leadership, interpersonal and communication skills, the external environment, the international dimension of business, entrepreneurism, and ethics. While the study noted that the quantity of published research had grown significantly, it criticized the research as “largely trivial and irrelevant.” In sum, business education had progressed to respectability in the academy, but it still struggled to find the right balance between practice and theory.

U.S. universities and schools of business are not immune to changes in global economics, politics, technology and society. Competition from traditional U.S. institutions, business schools outside the United States and online programs for top students has increased. Prospective students and parents more explicitly weigh the value proposition of a university, and employers seek graduates who add value to their business immediately.

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, the LMU College of Business Administration is well positioned to manage the challenges and opportunities that our students will face. The CBA has established centers focused on Asian business, entrepreneurship and ethics, providing academic opportunities, programs, events, and prominent speakers for students and the business community. Our revised undergraduate curriculum emphasizes more in-depth knowledge and increased problem-solving and critical thinking skills; increased experiential learning, including community-based and service learning; and an increased emphasis on international business, technology, and ethics and values. We added four foundational courses: “Business Institutions,” “Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making Models,” “Technology for Business” and “Globalization.”

In addition to a major in accounting, we now offer majors in applied information systems management, entrepreneurship, finance, management and marketing. All majors take three required courses that cover ethics, values and social responsibility. Along with the new one-unit course in ethical decision-making, there is a required ethics course in philosophy. For the third course, business majors take “Business and Social Responsibility,” and accounting majors take “Accounting Ethics, Professionalism and the Public Interest.”

The MBA curriculum also is being revised, with plans for more specific emphases on decision making and risk management, international business, and ethics and corporate social responsibility, including sustainability. The MBA has long offered opportunities to study abroad, but the revised curriculum will require all MBA students to take an international course or complete an international experience.

As part of the LMU community, CBA is engaged in assisting in the transformation of students to serve society through their business and personal lives by preparing them to be competent and ethical participants and leaders. The work is never done, but we are confident that our commitment to the LMU mission and to continuous improvement in the engagement of our students will serve our current and future students well.

Lawrence Kalbers is R. Chad Dreier Chair in Accounting Ethics and director of the Center for Accounting Ethics, Governance, and the Public Interest in the College of Business Administration.