The more business wins by current success metrics, the faster humankind loses. How can the creator and key influencer of business education meet this historical moment and adapt in a good way?
Well before the events of 2020 exposed deep systemic flaws, there was a growing chorus of voices outside of elite business culture highlighting the dire need for a new way of relating with ourselves, each other, and the Earth. Now, in response to this time of unprecedented transition and uncertainty, a number of stakeholders within the Wharton community and peer institutions have started coming together to seriously discuss the future of business education.
Students and alumni of Wharton graduate and undergraduate programs want to express our concern for the trajectory of the business school institution and explore a bold path forward together. At this most critical juncture in the lifecycle of business school education, we in the Wharton Wisdom community (a group started in 2017 to bring together those interested in personal development and integrating that with their work in the world) see clear opportunities to better support students and alumni on their personal and professional journeys, while strengthening Wharton’s reputation as a symbol of innovation and excellence in higher education.
The pioneering vision of Joseph Wharton was to prepare graduates with the breadth and depth of knowledge to become “pillars of the State, whether in private or in public life.” Amid an increasingly destabilizing society, we fear graduates are deprived of a diversity of knowledge and wisdom, inadequately prepared to become well-rounded pillars, and starved of the tools and awarenesses needed to move society in a more life-sustaining direction.
Fortunately, Wharton leadership is already thinking about this. Former Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett argues that "to be successful, all organizations will need not only different leaders, but also a whole new style of leadership.” Additionally, professor of Marketing Americus Reed observes, “Students are saying, ‘I want to be a captain of industry, but I don’t want to be out there just chasing materialistic objects. I need something deeper. I need self-actualization in addition to the usual metrics of success in business.’”
Current Wharton Dean Erika James asserts, “Our competition is complacency, and when you’re the best, it is very easy to become complacent. So one of the things that I hope that my tenure as dean will do is to motivate us to think about how do we want to define business education in the future, and not only rely on what we’ve done in the past.”
The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the path we are on. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and let’s take an honest look at the metrics, the mission, the culture, and the approach. Let’s reckon with the past. As one of the world’s most influential institutions, producing leaders who in turn have an outsize impact on the lives of their stakeholders, Wharton has a responsibility to persistently challenge itself to do better. It’s about time we go for our full potential.
We are signaling our interest in expanding this conversation to the broader Wharton community about opportunities to bring courageous leadership forward to meet the complex challenges of our times. The main goal today is to seed ideas, spark dialogue, and build relationships with those who feel inspired by what’s possible on a multi-generational time arc and are willing to experiment with integrating that higher octave into the educational experience of the next generation of business leaders.
Examples of the types of high-impact actions we are interested in exploring include:
- Creating a council of diverse Wharton community members to contribute to a long-term strategic vision of the institution
- Developing a Regenerative Economics course and concentration
- Establishing a dual-degree program with Penn’s Positive Psychology Center on expanding access to psychological support and growth
- Creating more extensive boundaries against corporate influence in on-campus recruiting
- Overhauling first-year curriculums to include some of the course suggestions listed below, as well as purpose discovery, shadow work, and graceful off-ramps for those who want to transfer out of a life path they did not choose
- Reimagining conventional success metrics (like SAT/GMAT scores and starting salaries) to include personal health and fulfillment
- Expanding alumni mentorship programming
- Adjusting admissions criteria to select for balanced qualities such as collaboration, self-knowledge, compassion, and empathy
- Increasing capacity of Career Services to advise on alternative career paths
- Creating a Hippocratic Oath for students planning on starting a company
At the center of this is the core curriculum. We want to challenge Wharton to overhaul its key content at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to train the next generation of leaders in a deeper, more diverse, and holistic skill and awareness set. Not to throw all the fundamentals away, but to question and complement them.
Examples of domains to augment the current curriculum include Antiracism and Anti-Oppression, Business in 2051, Systems Thinking, Learning from Nature, Emotional Intelligence, The Path of The Humane Technologist, Mindsets and Worldviews, Quality of Life, Alternative Ownership and Financing Structures, Ethics and Entrepreneurship, People’s History of the Business World, and Ancient & Indigenous Wisdom.
We envision a future where prospective students apply to Wharton not because they think they will be able to earn the most the fastest, but because they can develop the leadership capacities in order to achieve their highest expression of service in public life and richness in personal life. Where schools compete on societal impact and alumni fulfillment instead of test scores and starting salaries. Where Wharton is unleashing hundreds of celebrated leaders each year into the world, igniting a renaissance of creativity and a race to the top for a new breed of businesses that meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet.
We do not claim to have the answers, though we sense we are connected to lots of clues that may be useful for this shared effort. Our community numbers 100,000 with diverse life paths, values, capacities, and awarenesses. Many of us care. We are here, finding each other and gearing up to help. We sense there is a wellspring of others waiting for a context to come out of the woodwork and contribute their gifts to reimagine the business world. Schools like New York University are already making headway with programs like The Inner MBA. Let’s use our Wharton ingenuity to come together and find the interdisciplinary solutions to create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
We are excited to help the institution that gave us so much. We care about what happens next. We have been trained to spot a good market opportunity. This is one where everyone can win.
If you would like to participate in the conversation, please fill out this quick form and join the Wharton Wisdom Facebook Group. Consider sharing and discussing this vision with classmates and professors.
ANDREW MURRAY DUNN is a 2012 Wharton graduate and mentor to young people. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.