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Business Schools at the Crossroads? A Trip Back from Sparta to Athens

Abstract

Some business schools have come under considerable criticism for what observers see as their complicit involvement in the corporate scandals and financial crises of the last 15 years. Much of the discussion about changes that schools might undertake has been focused on curriculum issues. However, revisiting the curriculum does not get at the root cause of the problem. Instead, it might create a new challenge: the risk of decoupling the discussion of the curriculum from broader issues of institutional purpose. In this article, we argue that the most pressing need facing business schools is not to teach new courses to be responsive to social demands and stay relevant. Instead, it is to revisit their basic mission—the principles and beliefs on which they were founded—and then to re-evaluate their curriculum design choices in this light. We contrast the Spartan and Athenian educational paradigms as a way of shedding light on the nature of a coherent response.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Rubin & Dierdorff study is based on all the articles published in Academy of Management Learning and Education from 2002 to the January issue of 2012. They included only scholarly contributions of knowledge creation that had direct or obvious implications for MBA programs by reviewing article abstracts and keywords using each article’s citation record. Finally, they employed an article-coding scheme based on a recent MBA program quality model developed by Rubin et al. (2011).

  2. 2.

    We are grateful to an anonymous referee for helping us to include additional analyses on the political power structures that have great influence on business school policy and practice.

  3. 3.

    Both the relationship between excellences and happiness and how different excellences lead to happiness is at the core not only of ancient Greek philosophers but also modern theorists on virtue ethics and is out of the scope of the present paper. For detailed surveys see Peterson and Seligman (2004) and Sison (2016).

  4. 4.

    Plutarch was a Greek biographer during the Hellenistic period, this is, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire. His major contribution was the biography of Lycurgus, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. According to folklore, Lycurgus introduced Agōgē training regime (Jaeger 1986).

  5. 5.

    Self-domain, understood as moderation, belongs to the realm of the virtue of temperance. The purpose and goal of temperance are man’s inner order, from which alone serenity of spirit can flow forth. Temperance signifies the realizing of this order within oneself. In Pieper et al. (1966) The four cardinal virtues. 1966: University of Notre Dame Press Notre Dame.

  6. 6.

    AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (2013), Eligibility Procedures and Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Dr. Cristina Neesham for her editorial guidance and we acknowledge with great appreciation the comments of two anonymous reviewers on earlier versions of this manuscript. Additionally, Maria J. Murcia would like to thank Dr. Rajat Panwar for his ongoing encouragement and support and useful comments on this piece.

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Correspondence to Hector O. Rocha.

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Murcia, M.J., Rocha, H.O. & Birkinshaw, J. Business Schools at the Crossroads? A Trip Back from Sparta to Athens. J Bus Ethics 150, 579–591 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3129-3

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Keywords

  • Ancient Greece
  • Business schools
  • Curriculum issues
  • Mission
  • Scandals
  • Sparta and Athens