I serve on an advisory board for my alma mater’s business school, Miami University. The finance department formed this board a couple of years ago to help guide the curriculum of its students, better prepare them for careers in the field of finance, and foster relationships between students and alumni.
Given the financial meltdown of the past couple of years, the chairman sent us a series of questions ahead of a meeting we’re having later this month soliciting our input on what we, as former students and current financial professionals learned from the ordeal and how professors might incorporate such thinking into a modern business school curriculum.
I thought the questions were great and was encouraged to see academia seeking our input. At the same time, I think the most valuable inputs from a course perspective might likely lie within the realm of humanities rather than business classes. Below are some thoughts I shared with the department chair. I think it will be an interesting discussion.
A greater emphasis on philosophy, religion, organizational behavior, and history might likely prove fertile educational grounds for:
- Understanding that man is doomed to repeat the patterns of behavior surrounding fear and greed (if you are religiously bent as I am, this is our tendency to sin),
- Gaining an understanding of what personal involvement in these two patterns of human behavior might entail (ie consequences), and
- How an understanding of their inevitability might better prepare individuals for the future, whether it is on the trading floor, in the board room, or as a younger person planning their career options.
As you would likely agree, experience is the best teacher because it is real and often involves pain. There is nothing better than touching a hot stove to teach someone that touching hot stoves is not a good idea. That type of experience is hard to incorporate into an academic situation, but my guess is an intense course on personal struggles of individuals across a spectrum of careers could be useful. For instance, have a World War II vet talk to the class about dealing with Normandy, an astronaut about a faulty o ring, a catholic priest on dealing with their recent sex scandals, a politician on losing their recent race, or a Tiger Woods type on the cost of having an affair. You could design a whole class on these things that I believe would enable students to find similarities on the human condition that might prove useful in discerning appropriate course of action.
I would also note that one of the tell tale signs that an area of finance may be ripe for correction and/or comeuppance is when those types of jobs are the most coveted by undergraduate students seeking jobs. My guess is that two years ago, the hot areas of private equity and fund of funds would have been highly sought after. I don’t know how this could be incorporated into a risk management discipline, but in my experience, bubbles are not identified by the characteristics most taught in finance classes like ratios etc, but in the flows of money to favored asset classes. The more people are aware of how greed and fear manifest themselves, the better.
What are your thoughts? If you have anything unique to share, I will pass it along later this month.