This will not be President Trump’s Wharton. The times they are a-changin’ at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The elite business school recently hired Erika James as its new dean and, well, Dr. James has no intention of maintaining the status quo. Rather, she believes business students have changed, what matters to them has changed, and their business education can and must change with them, particularly with respect to tackling important issues facing businesses in this 21st century including social responsibilities like diversity, climate change, immigration, and even the role of business within the fabric of our society.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ at Wharton
As Dr. James states in a piece in The New York Times “At Wharton, a New Leader Confronts the Culture Wars” by David Gelles,” “The conversations in the classrooms are changing because the students are asking for it. Their expectation is that that’s in our syllabus. We’re going to have coursework and reading material and discussions on corporate social responsibility. We have to. If we want to continue to be an attractive choice for business school students, then our curriculum has to reflect what they’re asking for as a part of their business school experience. So that is starting to happen. I would also say there’s a generation of faculty that’s now coming into significant leadership roles as department chairs, for example, who have much more influence in preparing the curriculum and setting the agenda, and those faculty are increasingly aligned with where the students are coming from.”
We Welcome This Change in Business Education
We applaud The Wharton School for hiring Dr. James and we look forward to seeing the important work she begins in ushering the elite business school into a new era…all as MBA applications skyrocket. We like that she’s forward-thinking. We like that she’s willing to change a business education that has — since 1881 — earned a reputation as one of the preeminent business schools in the world. And we like the fact that she tells it like it is. As she says in the piece in The New York Times, “It’s no secret that academic institutions in general are typically perceived to be more liberal or progressive brands, rather than conservative. But a business school is potentially a bit more balanced. We are a microcosm of what’s happening in the world…We don’t all necessarily need to agree on everything, but we do need to understand how to engage with and respect the views and opinions and beliefs of all of our community members. I think business schools are struggling with that, as are companies.” We echo that sentiment.
All that being said, haven’t business schools been saying more or less the same thing since the collapse of Enron? It will be interesting to see if Dr. James creates the change we wish to see in business education.
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