HBS Starts UNstudying

A few weeks ago some HBS students and faculty did a great thing-they got together over lunch and had an organized, thoughtful conversation about Enron. The conversation was the first in a series of what are being called “UNstudy Groups.” (See below for information on how to join the next one.)

Now, of course, HBS students have been talking about Enron all over the place. But this conversation was different. Together with two faculty members, students tried to tease apart the issues of financial oversight, the inherent strengths of unregulated markets, and managerial ethics.
I’ve used this space in the Harbus to rail against key gaps in our curriculum-we aren’t forced to wrestle with the truly difficult choices that regularly face managers who must balance the bottom line against personal ethics. Sure, some of us will work for a nonprofit or serve on a community board. But for most of us, the real opportunity to make the world a better place will come in the offices and boardrooms of corporate America, when we decide whether to eliminate jobs or manufacture sketchy products or market to blatant stereotypes.

The folks who created the first UNstudy group blazed new ground. On their own time they declared that issues of ethics and business are central to our education, and we will discuss them. Though the UNstudy movement faces some obstacles (for example, Bill Gates simply will not allow me to type two capital letters at the beginning of a word!) it’s not that hard. Here’s how it works: Interested students sign up to attend a lunch meeting. Knowledgeable professors and special guests host the meeting. Students participate.
That’s it.

But dream with me if you will of a future with UNstudy. Every few weeks students and professors meet to discuss a timely topic: Was the post 9/11 airline bailout necessary? Whose interests should managers really serve? Imagine with me that next year’s b-school applicants visit the campus, and people everywhere are not only talking about NPVs and ROEs, but about how all this translates into “the well being of society” (our mission statement is far too pretty for me not to quote it often). You with me?

The next UNstudy group, scheduled for late March, asks about the obligations pharmaceutical companies have to citizens and shareholders, with regards to AIDS drugs in Africa. Sign up by emailing unstudy@hotmail.com.

This is how we make HBS relevant. Let’s do this thing.