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Dean's Corner: Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Embedded Business School

April 2012

By Doug Guthrie

For too many years, business schools have built a wall between academia and the greater community, often ignoring the value of engagement in the preparation of their students. At the George Washington University School of Business (GWSB), we are tearing down that wall. We believe that successful business organizations are fundamentally "embedded" in society, and the same must be true of today's business schools.

Our commitment to the idea that the contemporary business school must be engaged and committed at every level of community is transforming our philosophy of management education and guiding our curriculum. What better arena than an embedded business school to rethink the economic thought leadership of Milton Friedman—an ideology that has poorly served society in recent years—and to develop a new value proposition that elevates engagement over detachment?

There are many fine business schools in the United States that cleave to traditional theories of management education—married to the notion of the ivory tower and neoclassical economic theory—seeing real benefit from remaining aloof from the often messy, chaotic quality of today's global marketplace. Undoubtedly, there is, and always will be, a place reserved for a trusted few.

But there also is a vibrant and growing movement focused on bringing business schools, and their students, closer to the communities they inhabit. By embedding business schools in their universities and within their local communities, leaders ensure that their academic enterprises, as well as their students, are fully engaged in the real world.

In recent years, it has become clear that GWSB cannot thrive within a cloistered academic enclave that forever shuns the wider university, the Washington, D.C. region, the business community and society. University students venture out into this world; GWSB must do so as well. Toward that goal, we sought and found innovative opportunities for our faculty and students to work in tandem with other entities within the university, the Washington D.C. region and globally.

In 2011, GWSB launched the Major Projects Lab in the District of Columbia, in an effort to quantify successful economic development and job creation activities in the city, while considering how best to leverage city resources to sustain and expand them. Our goal is to build a foundation of intelligence and data that will be useful in guiding the city's job creation agenda. In addition, we've funded two economic development fellowships in the Office of the Mayor, providing much-needed human capital while offering our students the opportunity to work in the development of public-private partnerships. Finally, we have recently taken on a leading role with a coalition of organizations to help the city think through its economic strategic planning process.

Within the business community, GWSB has embarked on a long-term initiative on ethics and corporate social responsibility. By creating the Institute for Corporate Responsibility, we hope to engage corporations, encouraging them to elevate social responsibility and business ethics within corporate culture. With its focus on ethics, GWSB believes it can provide essential insight and tactics for its partners in the greater business community.

GWSB's efforts to employ embeddedness as a guiding principle have been most notable with our drive to become a destination university in Suzhou, China. After signing an agreement with Chinese officials in March 2012, we are on track to establish a Suzhou campus within three years, providing a comprehensive management-education program to Chinese students while opening a door to GWSB students wishing to study abroad.

By establishing a campus in China, we recognize that this economically influential nation is not only integral to our growth, but also is in critical need of educated and sophisticated leaders to guide its complex and evolving future. We are well positioned to serve in the role of instructor and coach for China's next generation. Equally important are the opportunities that await our students and faculty in China. Many U.S. students are internationally illiterate and would benefit from an immersing experience, and our Washington-based faculty will benefit from the academic cross-pollination that results from frequent trips to China to teach or conduct research.

Today, more than ever, we recognize that GWSB must evolve from a national institution into a school that sets the standard for international business education, collaboration and innovation. U.S. universities and colleges cannot remain provincial in their thinking or their approach to education. It is a competitive marketplace and only the diversified and internationally engaged universities will survive. Our China Initiative: Building Bridges for Innovation, Leadership and Educational Excellence is the first step in this profound transformation.

Events of the last few years have proven that business schools cannot—and do not—operate in a vacuum. By moving beyond the ivory tower and engaging the greater society, business schools are in a better position to expand the knowledge and opportunities for their students while broadly sharing the benefits of higher education.

Whether working with the D.C. government, collaborating with business leaders to establish the highest standards of corporate responsibility or creating an education footprint in China, GWSB is shifting its philosophy of embeddedness from theory to reality. By doing so, we believe it will ensure the vitality and relevance of management education for many years to come.


Doug Guthrie
Dean
George Washington University School of Business