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Photo of AACSB International Responsible Management Education Affinity Group meeting, Deans Conference 2017, New Orleans

Deans Collaborate Toward Innovative and Responsible Management Education


Posted February 15, 2017 by John North - Executive Director - Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

Imagine nearly 40 AACSB International business school deans participating in a powerful and collaborative inquiry into their role, and the role of their schools, in growing businesses and leaders that are not only the best in the world but the best for the world.

Such a peer-based inquiry was held during the Responsible Management Education (RME) Affinity Group meeting at the recent AACSB International Deans Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, in February.

Deans as Agents of Change

Participating deans used the novel engagement process called a “collaboratory” to consider the topic Deans as Agents of Change and to identify challenges and opportunities around this topic. The meeting was facilitated by the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)—a strategic partnership of AACSB International, EFMD, and the UN Global Compact, inclusive of the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

A collaboratory, as defined in the 50+20 vision Management Education for the World involves the active collaboration of a diversified group of participants who bring in different perspectives on a given issue or topic. In such a space, learning and research is organized around issues rather than disciplines or theory, and the collaboratory aims to define and mobilize appropriate collective actions on the issue.

The conversation was jointly opened by Julia Christensen Hughes of the University of Guelph College of Business and Economics, Asghar Sabbaghi of the St. Xavier University Graham School of Management, and Joe D’Angelo and Vana Zervanos of the Saint Joseph’s University Haub School of Business, and it soon developed to bring in the perspectives and ideas of all the participants in the room.

Hughes framed the exploratory part of the discussion by questioning the ways in which the various calls for a change in leadership development and management education relate to the very challenging realities of a “post-truth” world.

Questions Raised by the Deans

Given the new world we face, Hughes asked, what are the most effective levers for change and for institutionalizing sustainable innovation, and how does one bring more faculty on board so that the positive changes last beyond the dean’s tenure?

This opening discussion placed the need for more responsible leadership in the context of a fast-changing world, with the possibility of a less hospitable international trading environment and ever-increasing complexity. It also reflected on the various calls for change, such as the call for business to be a “force for good,” the ways in which traditional shareholder-focused models of value maximization are being challenged, the World Economic Forum’s new agenda for Responsible and Responsive Leadership, and awareness within companies of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Joining in on this evolving discussion, Eluned Jones, head of the Department of Economics at South Dakota State University, steered the discussion to ways in which deans could deepen their students’ understanding of the practice of responsible leaders. One way, stated Jones, was to find ways to bridge the gap between business school curriculums and the natural and environmental resource disciplines.

This led Patricia Bradshaw, dean at Sobey School of Business, to raise a personal question: “How can I help promote social justice, equity, and inclusion in the world while ensuring that our analysis and action embraces an understanding of deep structures of power?”

What followed was a robust discussion on how business schools could deal with the challenge of embracing the full spectrum of sustainability at their core, while retaining their essence as a business school. In this regard Deryck Janse van Rensburg, dean of Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, reflected on the systemic levers that place pressure on business schools, such as the propensity of external ranking agencies to list expected salary as an important measure of business school efficacy.

Moving beyond this, Craig Marsh, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Lincoln’s International Business School, asked if there was any evidence that efforts to orient business schools to a more responsible and sustainable agenda is proving effective when considering the actions and impact of their alumni.

Beyond New Orleans: Collective Action and Impact

As a closing reflection, Mary Watson, executive dean of public engagement at The New School, summarized: “A continued collaboratory for deans would not only bring to the surface shared questions and concerns on the topic of developing responsible leaders but also encourage collective engagement and participation, and move the participants from mere pontification on these challenges to prototyping solutions.”

The GRLI will facilitate such an initiative, and is now inviting applications for a participant-driven Deans as Agents of Change cohort. Participants will jointly determine, based on individual and collective challenges, interests and energy, which emergent issues and topics to emphasize during working sessions, and virtual meetings planned for 2017–18. During the facilitation, GRLI will use peer-learning approaches and innovative methodologies such as those tested and developed during the pioneering GRLI Innovation Cohort formed in 2013–14.

The cohort aims to engage with peers in a session at AACSB’s 2018 Deans Conference, where learning and actions so far will be shared in support of continued and enhanced impact.

For more information regarding the Deans as Agents of Change initiative, please contact John North at john.north@grli.org.


John North, Executive Director, Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)John North is executive director of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI). The GRLI, a strategic partnership of AACSB International, EFMD, and United Nations Global Compact, exists to catalyze globally responsible leadership and practice in organizations and societies worldwide.

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