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Redefining the Boundaries of Business Education

Boundaries are everywhere in business education. They inform business scholars about which journals they are supposed to publish in for tenure and promotion. Boundaries help us to neatly organize degree programs into categories, such as MBAs and specialized masters, based on objective criteria. Boundaries can be physical; it is not uncommon for university-based business schools to be physically separated from the main campus.

At AACSB, where I worked for 19 years, determining the “scope of review” (what’s included and not) is the first step in the accreditation process. It makes sense. Before beginning the accreditation journey, we have to decide what to evaluate and the unit to which accreditation applies. And because all business programs at the institution, regardless of whether they are in “the business school,” are included by default, this gives business school deans extraordinary power to keep business and management programs from springing up in other parts of the institution. This boundary-setting leverage has always been part of the value proposition for AACSB accreditation. 

But the environment has changed. Our traditional boundaries have become less helpful. They supported a focus on quality improvement, but are hindering efforts for impact leadership. Quality is about rules and rubrics. Impact is about creativity and collaboration.

It is time to lift our aspirations in business education. Instead of addressing business problems in the context of society, we should address societal problems in the context of business. We must take down the walls between disciplines and between academia and practice. We should embrace diversity and take a lead role in building interdisciplinary teams to address societal challenges. In schools we should engage in collective actions for common good, as much as competitive ones for individual benefit.

About five years ago, I proposed “breaking the rules” as the theme for a large gathering of deans. My suggestion was rightfully rejected since business schools were being questioned about their efforts to build ethical organizations and leaders. But the basic idea has only come into sharper focus. It is reflected in our work at the Global Business School Network. For example, GBSN Beyond—a value-creating reimagination of our flagship annual conference—is breaking boundaries by inviting business students and faculty as well as administrators to participate. 

The first line in the description of GBSN Beyond is:

Motivated to address the most pressing needs of society and enabled by digital innovation, business schools have been redefining the boundaries of their work.

It is time to celebrate and support the pioneers, non-conformists, and boundary spanners who are breaking the rules and pushing out the boundaries of business education. The new boundaries won’t be rigid; they will be fluid and ever changing, reflecting the dynamic world that business schools serve. 

That’s why we’ve been encouraging students to form interdisciplinary teams in our humanitarian logistics (HUMLOG) challenge. It’s why the whole university is invited to participate when the business school registers for GBSN Beyond. It is why we are running roundtables on building inclusive societies and entrepreneurial ecosystems and not just on fundraising and differentiating MBA programs. It is why we’re addressing climate change and inequality in our keynote sessions. 

Already more than 1,000 students, faculty, and leaders from over 80 leading business schools and 40 countries have registered to join us for GBSN Beyond. And the numbers are growing as we experience, connect, and learn through roundtables, workshops, competitions, and more, all leading up to the culminating virtual conference from November 9th through the 13th

Dan LeClair is CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN). Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries. As a lead spokesperson for reform and innovation in management education, Dan has been frequently cited in a wide range of US and international newspapers, magazines, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, China Daily, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Economist.