01 Dec 1996

Intellectual Debate: The Business of Business


With Dean Clark and former Dean McArthur present, along with some fifty current and former faculty members, two back-to-back sessions at the McArthur symposium under-scored differing views within the HBS community on some fundamental business issues.

A paper written by four members of HBS's Organizations and Markets unit (see Theory and Practice for a profile of the O&M unit) quickly sparked discussion in two different areas. Noting that the unit's Coordination, Control, and the Management of Organizations (CCMO) course often advocates theoretical positions rather than presenting them impartially among a range of views, faculty members debated the ramifications of this approach to course content and HBS pedagogy. Then, O&M Professor Michael C. Jensen's summary of the unit's views on the corporate objective function and performance measurement - e.g., that maximizing total firm value should be the firm's only motivation if social welfare is to be maximized - provoked a round of spirited discussion centered on the social role and responsibilities of corporations.

The next session, on "Ethics, Economics, and Organizations," focused on a paper by two members of the School's Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Responsibility initiative. Professors Thomas R. Piper and Lynn Sharp Paine emphasized the importance of both ethics and economics for outstanding organizations. They argued that the only zone of sustainable long-term business activity lies in the realm where ethics and economics overlap and highlighted the key implications this has for management and management education.

When the afternoon was over, differences of opinion on the topics notwithstanding, participants agreed that they had learned a great deal about one another's thinking, research, and teaching and had engaged in a dialogue not likely to end soon.

Toward the close of the discussion, former Dean McArthur spoke of his pride in the faculty and its commitment over the years, despite its growing diversity and complexity, to the ideals of positive change and the School as a community. "We sometimes disagree about the pace and progress of change," he said, "but we've always understood the need to work together to achieve the highest possible standards."

Dean Clark concurred and concluded the day's proceedings by noting: "One of the things we've seen here today - something I hope we will continue to cultivate and nurture - is the willingness of people to engage in meaningful interactions across various boundaries. We've made a wonderful beginning to a set of interchanges that promises to be truly important for the School."


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