Academics must “own up” to their “responsibilities” if they want to be trustworthy in the eyes of policymakers and the wider public, a leading business school dean has stated.
Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, told Times Higher Education that scholars, particularly those in his field, cannot claim they are “at the forefront” of influencing decision-making and “maybe we’re not so trusted with regard to our expertise” in some areas of society.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, and much of that work has to do with acknowledging that maybe we’re not at the forefront, that just like many other sectors in society, we too have to own up to our responsibilities and realities that maybe we’re not so trusted with regard to our expertise and insight,” he said.
He added that it was key that universities “take responsibility...for creating the right kind of environment for attracting and developing and nurturing people in the right way”, or they could not expect graduates to go out into the wider world and behave responsibly.
Professor Boulding, an expert in how managers make decisions and how consumers respond, has been active in working with government and professional organisations to help to regain the public’s trust in academic institutions.
He has worked with the New York Federal Reserve in examining the role business schools can play in rebuilding trust in the financial services sector, and believes there is still a lot of resentment towards those who educated the orchestrators of the 2008 financial crisis.
The US public, he suggested, regarded some “elite institutions” as culpable and consequently it is the business education world that has the responsibility to “acknowledge there have been times where we’ve gone wrong”.
“There has been a loss of trust and faith in those experts, because they’ve done stuff that has not engendered trust,” Professor Boulding said. “Many people involved in what drove us over into that crisis had a business education.
“We have to think about [whether] there are actually business leaders that have been educated where we have not prepared them sufficiently for understanding things like the social contract we have, the responsibility we have to improve lives.”
He said that those running businesses have a “responsibility to our customers, employees, communities. It’s not just about making the most profit this year. If we don’t acknowledge that, then people won’t acknowledge us as having self-awareness.
“We need to prepare the kind of business leaders who will be respected, who will be credible sources of insight in thinking about how we improve the world we live in.”