Narrow Focus Threatens B-Schools, Says Kellogg’s Dean Blount

As more and more business schools attempt to deliver graduate management education at lightening speed, the unpleasant side effect tends to be a limited focus on cultivating complex thinkers and not enough emphasis on true civic engagement. These are just a few areas of concern that Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management, addresses in her recent opinion piece published by the Financial Times.

Noting that business has been the most popular degree choice in the United States since 1980, Blount worries that today’s shortened attention spans and a desire for quick answers ultimately short-changes business students and society as a whole. “If we are going to educate another generation for which business is the most popular post-secondary area of study,” she writes, “We have a social obligation to educate these students to be complex thinkers and responsible citizens.”

Beyond simply teaching ethics in the classroom, Blount says the intellectual lens of business education must expand in significant and substantive ways.

“We must educate students to understand the effects that the conduct of business and free markets have on our national and global societies. Our world needs business leaders who comprehend both the power and limits of market-based solutions to social issues; leaders who understand social as well as economic benefits and costs in decision making. We also need students educated about the interface between the public and private sectors.”

Blount, who celebrated the first anniversary of her tenure as dean of the Kellogg School this past summer, has worked extensively on the school’s re-branding campaign, “Think Bravely”, which she says means challenging the status quo and taking a stand where it counts because you believe that change really matters.

“We need to re-examine how we orientate students to the study of business ”“ redefining their maps of the world to include a vibrant respect for the role of law and regulation in fostering capitalism’s best successes,” Blount writes. The dean also proposes a profound shift in learning style, moving out of what she calls the 65-person, 75-minute “learning bowl” experience in favor of longer, small group discussions.

“Globally we have seen the damage that can be done by short-term, narrow-interest myopia,” writes Blount. “Business schools should be preparing our best and brightest to think bravely and reverse this dangerous trend, not perpetuate it.”

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