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Why the Fox School of Business uses this required course to teach students CSR

Alter Hall. February 17, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongMethod
Millennials are thinking about social impact and corporate sustainability as they consider their employment prospects. We know this.

A recent conversation with some Temple University business undergrads during one of their Net Impact meetings yielded some insight into why these ideals are important to them and how they feel about the way these topics are taught in their classes.

One of those classes — Business, Society and Ethics — is a required course for Fox School of Business students, and one of the professors who was instrumental in making it required is Lynne Andersson, an associate professor in the human resources management department.

Lynne Andersson

Lynne Andersson. (Courtesy photo)

Her introduction into researching topics such as “cynicism toward big business” started back when she herself was ingrained in the business world working in biostatistics and management information systems. It was during the daily grind when she became disenchanted by the ways she saw big corporations were operating, whether it be with employee brown-nosing or countless hours being put into what she perceived to be meaningless work.

So, she decided to return to her alma mater of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to, in a way, study herself: “Why am I cynical? Why am I disenchanted with business?”

Her time at Temple is now dedicated to helping students think critically about the institution of big business and how corporate social responsibility can be a force for positive change. And it really all started with that required course, Business, Society and Ethics.

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Here’s how the course came about and what it means for Temple’s business students:

The Enron scandal played a big part in the formation of the course.

The publicizing of the Enron scandal back in 2001 made Temple aware of the reality that many MBA graduates were committing fraud.

It raised a question of, “What are we teaching these people?” Andersson said, and so it soon became a requirement for business schools to either try and inject ethics into every topic taught or have a required course dedicated to business ethics.

Well, Fox did both, thanks to the guidance of Andersson, legal studies in business professor Terry Ann Halbert and human resource management professor John Deckop. In 2003, they ended up creating the first three-credit, required course for business ethics in the country, according to Andersson.

The class exposes students to the realities of the institution they are trying to enter …

There’s a reason why many people today are wary and distrustful of big business and corporations — the reality is that business has become the most powerful institution in the world. According to The World Bank, the world’s top 100 economies include 69 corporations (alongside 31 countries).

A course like Business, Society and Ethics makes students take a step back and really look at big businesses and corporation critically, often debating things like whether corporations are eroding our democracy with its many political influences.

“We hope to end the class by making them think, ‘How can we make it better?’” Andersson said.

… But also makes sure students are aware of the good that’s being done by many corporations today.

CSR today includes entities such as B Corporations (triple-bottom-line businesses), the concept of which was founded by Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan. They’re the cofounder and former president, respectively, of the basketball footwear and apparel business AND1.

Andersson believes CSR and sustainability in big corporations can start from the bottom-up, too — her dissertation in the ‘90s looked at lower-level employees who influenced upper-level management leaders at big companies to care more about the environmental impacts they were having.

And Philadelphia “is a leader in it all.” Andersson pointed to people such as “Sustainable Pioneer” Judy Wicks, the founder of White Dog Café, for her efforts in starting the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.

The goal of the course is not to teach each student how to be a good person.

“There’s a tendency to think that we should just be teaching individuals how to be good,” Andersson said. “We at Fox kind of think that’s inaccurate because I think the more powerful force is context. When you’re in a corporation, you’re not just going to think, ‘Oh, I’m going to do the right thing’ — you’re going to be thinking, ‘What are my peers, bosses doing?’

“So, to separate or isolate individual action seems like the wrong way to teach this. We end up teaching more about the institution of business, how powerful it is, how much it will influence your career and how you’ll make bad decisions because everyone around you is making bad decisions, not because you’re a bad person.”

Courses like these are now more important than ever.

If the Trump administration has shown Andersson anything, she said, it’s that big businesses and corporations will need to stand up for individuals as regulations are dismantled left and right.

So, when Trump vowed to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, Andersson was relieved to hear how major corporations were against the decision.

And it’s clear that students really do care about business ethics and CSR: Temple’s CSR minor was started in 2010 after a group of students voiced their interest for such a minor to a dean.

These students are also entering a job market where words like “sustainability” and “CSR” are included in job titles. Andersson says these jobs didn’t exist 10 years ago.

“We humans have created this exploitative system, so we humans need to change it,” she said.

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